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Using Mitochondrial DNA to Inventory the Distribution of Remnant Populations of New England Cottontails

Marianne K. Litvaitis and John A. Litvaitis
Wildlife Society Bulletin (1973-2006)
Vol. 24, No. 4 (Winter, 1996), pp. 725-730
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Wildlife Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3783166
Page Count: 6
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Using Mitochondrial DNA to Inventory the Distribution of Remnant Populations of New England Cottontails
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Abstract

Monitoring the distribution of a rare mammal presents obvious challenges to wildlife biologists. We evaluated the use of mitochondrial DNA extracted from fecal pellets and tissue samples as a possible method to track declining populations of New England cottontails (Sylvilagus transitionalis) in a region where they are sympatric with eastern cottontails (S. floridanus). We identified a species-specific restriction site that consistently differentiated the 2 cottontails. Our ability to extract DNA from fecal-pellet samples was hampered by large amounts of plant pigments; therefore, we recommend that biologists rely on tissue samples to conduct regional surveys on the relative abundance and distribution of New England cottontails. DNA-based techniques have advantages over current methods used to identify New England cottontails (skull morphology, determination of diploid chromosome numbers, and chromosomal banding pattern) because they rely on small samples that can be collected using a variety of protocols (e.g., cooperating hunters and incidental vehicle mortalities).

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