Optimal collection and preservation protocols for fecal DNA genotyping are not firmly established. We evaluated 3 factors that influence microsatellite genotyping success of fecal DNA extracted from coyote (Canis latrans) scats: 1) age of scat, 2) preservative, and 3) diet content. We quantified genotyping success by comparing rates of allelic dropout, false alleles, and failed amplifications among consensus genotypes. We used a panel of 6 microsatellite loci to genotype 20 scat samples, each of which was subjected to 3 age (1 day, 5 days, and 10 days post-deposition) and 3 preservation (DET buffer, 95% ethanol [EtOH], and lysis buffer) treatments. Both sample age and storage buffer had a significant effect on success and reliability. Ethanol and DET buffer preserved fecal samples with similar efficiency, and both were superior to lysis buffer. Our analysis of DNA degradation rates revealed that samples collected as early as 5 days of age yielded DNA that was highly degraded relative to samples collected on day 1. We tested the influence of dietary remains on microsatellite genotyping by using scat samples consisting predominantly of insect prey (n = 5), mammalian prey (n = 9), or the remains of juniper (Juniperus spp.) berries (n = 6) and compared EtOH and DET buffer preservation efficacy. We observed a significant interaction effect between storage buffer and diet for the probability of a false allele in a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), suggesting that the optimal preservation technique depended on the food remains comprising the scat. Scats comprised of juniper berry remains were more reliably genotyped when preserved in DET than EtOH. Mammalian preybased scats were more reliable when stored in EtOH than DET buffer. Insect-predominant scats were preserved in EtOH and DET buffer with similar efficiency. Although accurate and reliable results can be obtained from scats collected at ≥5 days of age, we suggest sampling design to include collection of scats <5 days of age to minimize field and laboratory expenses. We suggest EtOH preservation for scats of obligate carnivores and of facultative carnivores with a diet consisting primarily of mammals. We suggest DET buffer preservation for animals with a diet consisting of plant-derived foods. Lysis buffer protocols that we employed should not be used for fecal DNA preservation.
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