An understanding of diet habits is crucial in implementing proper management strategies for wildlife. Diet analysis, however, remains a challenge for ruminant species. Microhistological analysis, the method most often employed in herbivore diet studies, is tedious and time consuming. In addition, it requires considerable training and an extensive reference plant collection. The development of DNA barcoding (species identification using a standardized DNA sequence) and the availability of recent DNA sequencing techniques offer new possibilities in diet analysis for ungulates. Using fecal material collected from controlled feeding trials on pygmy goats, (Capra hicus), novel DNA barcoding technology using the P6-loop of the chloroplast trnL (UAA) intron was compared with the traditional microhistological technique. At its current stage of technological development, this study demonstrated that DNA barcoding did not enhance the ability to detect plant species in herbivore diets. A higher mean species composition was reported with microhistological analysis (79%) as compared to DNA barcoding (50%). Microhistological analysis consistently reported a higher species presence by forage class. For affect positive species identification, microhistology estimated an average of 89% correct detection in control diets, while DNA barcoding estimated 50% correct detection of species. It was hypothesized that a number of factors, including variation in chloroplast content in feed species and the effect of rumen bacteria on degradation of DNA, influenced the ability to detect plant species in herbivore diets and concluded that while DNA barcoding opens up new possibilities in the study of plant-herbivore interactions, further studies are needed to standardize techniques and for DNA bar-coding in this context.
- Evaluation of the efficacy of DNA sequencing and microhistological analysis for determining diet composition in ungulates
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by Julie Joan Murphree