The identification of carnivores responsible for preying on wild or domestic ungulates often is of interest to wildlife managers. Typically, field personnel collect a variety of data at mortality sites including scat or hair samples that may have been deposited by the predator. We compared mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) analysis of hair and scat samples (n = 122) collected at elk (Cervus elaphus) mortality sites between 1997 and 2004 in north-central Idaho, USA, with field identification of carnivore presence. We amplified mtDNA from samples via a 2-step process involving an initial screening for American black bears (Ursus americanus), brown bears (Ursus arctos), and gray wolves (Canis lupus) using a length variation in the 5′ hypervariable section of the control region. Samples that failed the first screening subsequently were analyzed using conserved mtDNA primers that amplify a wide array of vertebrates. Species identification success rate was high (88.5%) and established the presence of 3 predators at elk mortality sites including black bears (55.7%), cougars (Puma concolor; 27.9%), and coyotes (Canis latrans; 6.6%). Attempts at hair and scat identification by field personnel were correct for 58% of hair samples and 79% of fecal samples. Results from these analyses demonstrate the merits of combining field mortality assessments with mtDNA species identification to aid wildlife managers in more accurately pinpointing predators involved in either predation or depredation events.
American black bears