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Genetics

Genetic analyses are based on the genetic material present in the cells of any living being – the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). A variety of questions can be answered through the comparison of parts of the DNA with a reference database. Amongst others, genetic methods are used in conservation to determine the degree of inbreeding or genetic depletion, kinship or the origin of individuals. DNA is a very delicate substance which can be quickly damaged by warmth and light. As a result, genetic analyses are quite expensive. Only high quality samples can yield quality results.

Lynx

A KORA staff member holds up a blood sample from a lynx.
A blood sample from a lynx is analysed to gain information on the genetic variability. © Laurent Geslin

KORA surveys the genetic variability in the different reintroduced lynx populations in Switzerland and the genetic exchange between populations. KORA also analyses the degree of kinship and of inbreeding, and collects information on the origin of individuals outside the established distribution. Since 1991, genetic samples have been collected and analysed systematically. The reintroduction of the lynx in Switzerland was done with only few founder individuals. Moreover, current populations in Switzerland are isolated. Very little exchange exists, both between the populations within Switzerland, i.e. the populations in the Alps, the Jura mountains and north-eastern Switzerland, but also between populations in Switzerland and neighbouring countries. Due to the small number of founder individuals and the following isolation, the surveillance of the genetic status of the population is very important. Consequently, KORA performs a genetic monitoring to observe the development of the genetic situation and to propose necessary measures in time. Switzerland also receives requests to supply lynx for reintroduction projects abroad. The genetic monitoring of captured individuals ensures that no closely related individuals are used in the founding of the population. The samples are analysed at the Genetics Institute of the University of Bern.

Wolf

Usually, wolves can only be identified individually through genetics. An individual identification through external characteristics is only rarely possible. As such, the genetic monitoring of wolves is of high importance in Switzerland. Since 1999 samples have been systematically collected to confirm the presence of wolves, to identify individuals and their origin, and to identify possible hybrids. Most commonly, so called non-invasive samples are used, which require no direct sampling on the animal, for example feces, hair, saliva or urine collected around killed game or livestock. In a first step, species and origin of the animal can be determined. In a second step, it is possible to identify the individual. This does not always work with non-invasive samples, because the DNA is often no longer intact. Through the genetic individual identification combined with other records, KORA can determine the minimum number of wolves in Switzerland. The genetic analyses are performed by the Laboratoire de Biologie de la Conservation at the University of Lausanne.

Comments on genetic analyses (DE, FR, IT)

Checklist sample collection (DE, FR)

Form for genetic samples (DE, FR, IT)

Bear

Like wolves, bears can only be identified individually by genetic analyses due to their lack of external characteristics that would allow such an identification. Since 2005 (over 100 years after their eradication from Switzerland), bears have repeatedly entered Switzerland from Italy, but no individual has settled. Mostly, bears entering Switzerland are subadult males dispersing from their mother’s home range in Italy. KORA attempts to obtain genetic samples from every individual. In their case, identification of the individual and determining parentage are the focus of the study. The genetic analyses are performed by the Laboratoire de Biologie de la Conservation at the University of Lausanne.

Wildcat

The first genetic monitoring on the European wildcat in Switzerland was performed from 2008-2010 in the Jura mountains, and was commissioned by the Federal Office for the Environment. This monitoring is currently repeated not only in the Jura mountains, but also in parts of the Central plateau and the pre-Alps. The national genetic monitoring commissioned by the FOEN is performed by Wildtier Schweiz. Within our project for the Conservation of the wildcat in Switzerland, KORA collect genetic samples of wildcats to estimate their abundance and density, but also the degree of hybridisation. Our genetic samples are analysed by the Senckenberg Institut, Sektion Naturschutzgenetik

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