Scientists use DNA from otter scat to study growing population

By Kim Buckley

Along the river basins in Nebraska, otters are rebuilding their population.

Scientists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are extracting DNA from otter scat to use in a population estimate.

Otters became extinct in Nebraska in the 1900s, but were reintroduced in 1986. This research will help with the conservation of otters in the state.

“Currently there hasn’t been a population estimate in Nebraska,” said Amy Williams. “And doing this we can get an estimate to get a management plan (for the state) for the otters.”

Before extracting DNA from otter scat, transmitters were implanted in the abdomens of the animals and were tracked through the transmissions. Collars have never been used because otters are diving animals and their necks are too slender for them, Williams said.

While some of the information gained from using transmitters are lost by extracting DNA, Williams said there are benefits as well.

“It does increase the amount of information we can get on another level,” she said.

Extracting DNA is less stressful on the otters, less expensive and less time consuming.

“It identifies (otters) as unique individuals and determines relationships, and gender and lineages,” Williams said.

Scientists are using this method of extracting DNA from scat for many other species.

On July 18, Williams spoke at the University of Nebraska State Museum about that research for Morrill Hall’s Sunday With a Scientist event.

“They liked people talking about poop,” she said laughing. “The kids loved that.”

Williams said she has a positive response whenever she talks about her work.

“I think the general response is a ‘Oh, that’s really cool,’” she said.

French said both children and adults were able to learn something from William’s presentation.

“Amy was very interactive with the kids, everybody,” she said.

The presentation was a way for Nebraskans to experiences something that was unknown to them, French said.

“A lot of people don’t know Nebraska has river otters,” she said.

The next Sunday with Scientist event will be Aug. 15 called “Beetle Mania.”

Read more here: http://www.dailynebraskan.com/scientists-use-dna-from-otter-scat-to-study-growing-population-1.2282318
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