Noninvasive DNA sampling allows studies of natural populations without disturbing the target animals. Unfortunately, high genotyping error rates often make noninvasive studies difficult. We report low error rates (0.0–7.5%/locus) when genotyping 18 microsatellite loci in only 4 multiplex polymerase chain reaction amplifications using fecal DNA from bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis). The average locus-specific error rates varied significantly between the 2 populations (0.13% vs. 1.6%; P < 0.001), as did multi-locus genotype error rates (2.3% vs. 14.1%; P < 0.007). This illustrates the importance of quantifying error rates in each study population (and for each season and sample preservation method) before initiating a noninvasive study. Our error rates are among the lowest reported for fecal samples collected noninvasively in the field. This and other recent studies suggest that noninvasive fecal samples can be used in species with pellet-form feces for nearly any study (e.g., of population structure, gene flow, dispersal, parentage, and even genome-wide studies to detect local adaptation) that previously required high-quality blood or tissue samples.
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Vol. 72 • No. 1