Forensic Scatology - collect enough shit, some is bound to stink!


THE DNA technologies only now used in Tasmanian fox program have been available for several years. Tracking the gene flow using molecular DNA methods goes back as far as 1989 when it was applied to the fox population on Phillip Island, Victoria.

The use of micro-satellite DNA techniques to genetically fingerprint individual foxes (genotyping) has been around since at least the start of the Millennium. What’s more, DNA can be successfully recovered - by some researchers - from about half the fox faeces (scat) collected in the field.  This is the precise forensic way of matching scats to individual animals, to locations and ultimately to building a profile of likely relatedness between individuals.

CEO of the Invasive Animal CRC Dr Peacock’s comments about the development of DNA techniques do not reflect the published literature on this subject: Here and Here

A paper by Maxine Piggott and others was published last year (2008) - Evaluating exotic predator control programs using non-invasive genetic tagging - Wildlife Research 35: 617-624. These researchers had already done their preliminary laboratory & field trials at Werribee, Victoria that developed an efficient scat DNA technique in 2003. I’m sure that Dr Peacock would be aware of this important published research. The 2008 paper demonstrated that the use of faecal DNA analysis methods can identify individual foxes and can be used to assess the effectiveness of 1080 baiting activities (e.g. whether Foxoff™ is the preferred over other baits) on the survival or death of individual foxes.

Maxine Piggot’s research was done out of Monash University with collaboration with colleagues at the ANU (Canberra), Victorian DPI and Nocturnal Wildlife Research Ltd. This was excellent and distinguished research but, and here’s the rub, they are not Invasive Animal CRC partners!

I really hope that territorial interests of predator researchers - the ‘pissing patches’ - have not overlooked this research in preference for another methodology used & advocated by the CRC members.

These DNA technologies should have been applied forensically and transparently to the investigations of the Tasmanian fox incidence going as far back as Tasmania’s embarrassing live fox escape at Burnie in 1998!

A thorough and transparent DNA retrospective on all the ‘fox’ samples that Tasmania’s FEP has now amassed - 3 carcasses, a posted fox skin, ~30 field collected faeces and a blood spot - is urgently called for.  It could be the basis of a very interesting fox-forensics paper and the final ‘crucifixion’ of the so-called sceptics!

David Obendorf

David Obendorf
A thorough and transparent DNA retrospective on all the ‘fox’ samples that Tasmania’s FEP has now amassed - 3 carcasses, a posted fox skin, ~30 field collected faeces and a blood spot - is urgently called for.  It could be the basis of a very interesting fox-forensics paper and the final ‘crucifixion’ of the so-called sceptics!