To monitor mammals by direct observation is often very difficult. Therefore a new technique based on DNA typing of droppings has been developed. DNA typing of otter spraints can potentially provide estimates of population size, home ranges, dispersal, genetic diversity and which species are present. This article gives a set of guidelines based on two feasibility studies on how to use the spraint DNA typing method. There are three main points. First, a sample of the study population must be typed to check that levels of genetic polymorphism are high enough for individual identification. Second, spraints must be collected and stored correctly because DNA extracted from spraints is typically of poor quality and quantity. Spraint collection should take place within 12 hours after deposition and before 10 a.m., and spraints should be stored at -20°C in a solution to stop DNA breakdown. Third, laboratory technique must be meticulous in carrying out repeat assays of the same sample and in avoiding contamination among samples. The results of the feasibility studies suggest that spraint DNA typing shows promise for monitoring of otter populations. Further progress will depend on achieving higher success rates, lower cost, and developing more highly variable microsatellites and species-specific PCR assays. DNA typing of endangered and poorly known otter species could provide important information on their distribution and status. We therefore recommend that skin, tissue or DNA samples from all endangered otter species be archived for future genetic analysis
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