5 years ago

Non-invasive genetics outperforms morphological methods in faecal dietary analysis, revealing wild boar as a considerable conservation concern for ground-nesting birds

Harri Valdmann, Urmas Saarma, Ragne Oja, Egle Soe

by Ragne Oja, Egle Soe, Harri Valdmann, Urmas Saarma

Capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus) and other grouse species represent conservation concerns across Europe due to their negative abundance trends. In addition to habitat deterioration, predation is considered a major factor contributing to population declines. While the role of generalist predators on grouse predation is relatively well known, the impact of the omnivorous wild boar has remained elusive. We hypothesize that wild boar is an important predator of ground-nesting birds, but has been neglected as a bird predator because traditional morphological methods underestimate the proportion of birds in wild boar diet. To distinguish between different mammalian predator species, as well as different grouse prey species, we developed a molecular method based on the analysis of mitochondrial DNA that allows accurate species identification. We collected 109 wild boar faeces at protected capercaillie leks and surrounding areas and analysed bird consumption using genetic methods and classical morphological examination. Genetic analysis revealed that the proportion of birds in wild boar faeces was significantly higher (17.3%; 4.5×) than indicated by morphological examination (3.8%). Moreover, the genetic method allowed considerably more precise taxonomic identification of consumed birds compared to morphological analysis. Our results demonstrate: (i) the value of using genetic approaches in faecal dietary analysis due to their higher sensitivity, and (ii) that wild boar is an important predator of ground-nesting birds, deserving serious consideration in conservation planning for capercaillie and other grouse.

Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0179463

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