North African ungulates include several threatened and emblematic species, yet are poorly studied mainly due to their remoteness and elusiveness. Noninvasive sampling provides a useful approach to obtain ecological and genetic information essential to guide conservation actions. The very first and most important step in conservation planning is to accurately identify species, and molecular genetics has been proved to be a useful tool. Several molecular genetics protocols are available for species identification, even for samples with poor quality DNA, such as faeces, hairs or bones. Most of these protocols use mitochondrial DNA for barcoding despite this marker being especially prone to problems, including mtDNA introgression, nuclear insert copies, high intraspecific diversity or heteroplasmy. In this work, we developed a molecular method based on polymorphisms in small fragments of the mitochondrial cytochrome b (cytb, mtDNA) and the nuclear kappa casein genes (KCAS, nDNA) for identifying endangered North African ungulates. These fragments revealed polymorphisms, including species-specific variation, which allowed species identification of nine ungulate species that co-occur in North Africa. The method was validated across more than 400 samples, including different types of noninvasive samples collected in the field. The simplicity, high reliability and relative low cost of the described method make it a promising tool to improve ecological studies of the North African ungulates and consequently, the implementation of more efficient management and conservation plans for these endangered ungulates.
Journal: Molecular Ecology Resources