DNA from remotely-collected samples of hair or feces provides a means of assessing attributes of populations of wild animals, including genetic diversity, spatial distribution, patterns of habitat use, dispersal distances, population fragmentation, and population size. This technique has been called noninvasive genetic sampling, a term in common usage especially in the bear literature. It has taken on the connotation of being more humane than techniques such as radiotelemetry that require capture of animals. The term noninvasive, however, is misapplied: in the biological-genetic sense, it refers only to the invasion of the body (through the skin or an orifice), not to capture or general intrusiveness. If it is construed to mean nonintrusive in a more general sense, then other methods of collecting population data that do not require animal capture, such as camera trapping, sign surveys, sightings, and interviews, should be called noninvasive as well. Moreover, once an animal is radiocollared, the process of collecting telemetry data is also noninvasive. I recommend the use of a more neutral and also more informative and technically correct term, “remote,” to describe genetic and other forms of sampling that do not involve human handling of animals. Remote sampling aids investigators in reducing their effects on the study subjects and also may provide larger samples than can be obtained by trapping. However, many of the important biological questions that can be (and for >30 years have been) studied by capturing animals and tracking them telemetrically cannot be addressed with genetic or other remote sampling techniques.
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Vol. 17 • No. 2