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Kangaroo Poo DNA Test Helps Researchers Count And Manage Species

The science of identifying an animal by its droppings just got a 21st century update.



Researchers in Australia have developed a fast, easy, and kind of gross way to to track populations on different species of kangaroo and wallaby across the continent with a quick and dirty DNA test of the droppings the animals leave behind. The tests could help to improve understanding of how many kangaroos of a particular species are alive in the wild, and exactly where they’re living, and similar tests could one day help identify and protect populations of more vulnerable animals.

Tracking species and learning more about their ranges, diets and other information by examining scat is nothing new — if you passed high school biology, chances are you had to take apart an owl pellet at some point — but the scat left behind by different species is similar enough that it’s hard to tell which species it comes from. Everybody poops, after all, and that means it can be hard to tell if what the population distribution of a region is beyond “Um, there’s a lot of kangaroo poop on the ground, so I’m guessing…kangaroos?”

Needless to say, this is hardly an acceptable method of gauging biodiversity, so researchers designed a new DNA test that pinpoints exactly which species of kangaroo a piece of scat came from, raising “fecal identification technology” to its most impressive heights yet. The new tests have already shed light on the distribution of 5 species of kangaroo found outside what are considered their natural ranges by wildlife management officials, including grey kangaroo droppings found more than 400 km afield from where they are assumed to roam.

(via Eurekalert, image via flickr)

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