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Bat Conservation

Utilizing Advanced Genetic Methods in DoD Natural Resource Management: Multifaceted DNA Metabarcoding and Bats


Richard Lance, Leader, Genetics Reconnaissance Team, US Army Engineer Research & Development Center:


We have developed Multifaceted DNA Metabarcoding (MDM), a modular, cost-effective, laborsaving method for the collection of species and ecological data, and demonstrated its use for bats of conservation concern on two military installations. MDM combines noninvasive sampling, molecular scatology, next generation DNA sequencing, and DNA barcoding. In this study, we used MDM and bat guano samples to determine 1) species and sex of bats, and 2) characterize bat diet, parasites, and pathogens. These data were obtained for about 1/5th of the cost associated with conventional techniques. As part of the study, we developed new and demonstrably reliable bat species and sex identification markers specifically for use with guano samples, and conducted comprehensive tests of these and other similar markers. Our demonstration focused on 1) a Fort Drum (NY) based colony of little brown bat (Myotis lucifugus; MYLU), and 2) two roost sites on Fort Huachuca (AZ), known to host (among other bat species) the lesser long-nosed bat (Leptonycteris yerbabuenae; LEYE). Using MDM we successfully identified bat species for 97.9% of the Fort Drum samples and 89.4% of the Fort Huachuca samples. Sex identifications from the guano samples matched expected sex ratios. In Fort Drum guano samples, detection of white-nose pathogen DNA was high (62.4% of samples; Fort Huachuca samples not tested), reflecting known high-incidence of white-nose syndrome in this region. The suite of dietary items identified for MYLU on Fort Drum was dominated by small, soft-bodied, flying riparian insects (e.g., midges, mayflies), matching expectations based on habitat use and foraging strategies. Dietary DNAs detected in nectivorous LEYE samples were dominated by Family Asparagaceae, which includes Agave, the bat’s known primary nectar resource. Prey item DNAs detected in guano of other Fort Huachuca bats using MDM also closely aligned with expected diet. Several classes of parasite taxa were detected in both sample sets, including both endo- and ectoparasites. Our demonstration studies highlighted the power of MDM to provide several classes of useful information for environmental intelligence and natural resources management on Department of Defense installations (and elsewhere).

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