Rapid molecular assays for species and sex identification of swamp deer and other coexisting cervids in human-dominated landscapes of the Terai region and upper Gangetic plains, northern India: implications in understanding species distribution and population parameters
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Burgeoning pressures of habitat loss is a major cause of herbivore decline across India, forcing them to coexist with humans in non-protected areas. Their conservation in such landscapes is challenging due to paucity of ecological and demographic information. The northern subspecies of swamp deer, Rucervus duvaucelii duvaucelii, is one such herbivore that lives across human-dominated landscapes in Terai region and upper Gangetic plains of north India. Here, we describe species-specific molecular markers and a cervid-specific molecular sexing assay for swamp deer and four other coexisting cervids sambar, chital, barking deer and hog deer. Our markers show species-specific band patterns and a high success rate of 88.21% in large number of field collected reference samples for all species. Faecal pellets from pilot swamp deer survey samples from upper Ganges basin show 93.81% success rate, and only 5.5% misidentification based on morphological characteristics. Our cervid-specific molecular sexing multiplex assay accurately ascertained 81.15% samples to respective sexes. These molecular approaches provide an easy, quick and cheap option to generate critical information on herbivore population parameters and aid their conservation in this mosaic of protected and non-protected grassland habitats.
Keywordsherbivore distribution non-protected areas species-specific assays molecular sexing swamp deer
We thank the Forest Departments of Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh for providing necessary permits (Permission nos: 90/5, 978/6-32/56, 1127/23-2-12(G) and 2233/23-2-12 (G)) to conduct this research. We are thankful to the Forest Department officials, Suvankar Biswas, Supriya Bhatt, Imam, Ranju, Bhura, Annu and Ammi, for helping us with sampling. We thank the Forest Departments of Haryana and Rajasthan (Jaipur Zoo Authorities) and Dr. S. P. Goyal for providing reference samples. Mr. A. Madhanraj and Ms Garima provided critical technical help in the laboratory. Our sincere thanks to the Director, Dean and the Wildlife Forensics and Conservation Genetics Cell of the Wildlife Institute of India for their support. Shrutarshi Paul was awarded the Department of Science and Technology INSPIRE Research Fellowship (IF150680) and Samrat Mondol was supported by the Department of Science and Technology INSPIRE Faculty Award (IFA12-LSBM-47).
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