Amaiur Esnaola, Aitor Arrizabalaga-Escudero, Jorge Gonzalez-Esteban, Arturo Elosegi, Joxerra Aihartza. Determining diet from faeces: Selection of metabarcoding primers for the insectivore Pyrenean desman (Galemys pyrenaicus). PLoS One, 13(12):e0208986. 2018.
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Molecular techniques allow non-invasive dietary studies from faeces, providing an invaluable tool to unveil ecological requirements of endangered or elusive species. They contribute to progress on important issues such as genomics, population genetics, dietary studies or reproductive analyses, essential knowledge for conservation biology. Nevertheless, these techniques require general methods to be tailored to the specific research objectives, as well as to substrate- and species-specific constraints. In this pilot study we test a range of available primers to optimise diet analysis from metabarcoding of faeces of a generalist aquatic insectivore, the endangered Pyrenean desman (Galemys pyrenaicus, E. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, 1811, Talpidae), as a step to improve the knowledge of the conservation biology of this species. Twenty-four faeces were collected in the field, DNA was extracted from them, and fragments of the standard barcode region (COI) were PCR amplified by using five primer sets (Brandon-Mong, Gillet, Leray, Meusnier and Zeale). PCR outputs were sequenced on the Illumina MiSeq platform, sequences were processed, clustered into OTUs (Operational Taxonomic Units) using UPARSE algorithm and BLASTed against the NCBI database. Although all primer sets successfully amplified their target fragments, they differed considerably in the amounts of sequence reads, rough OTUs, and taxonomically assigned OTUs. Primer sets consistently identified a few abundant prey taxa, probably representing the staple food of the Pyrenean desman. However, they differed in the less common prey groups. Overall, the combination of Gillet and Zeale primer sets were most cost-effective to identify the widest taxonomic range of prey as well as the desman itself, which could be further improved stepwise by adding sequentially the outputs of Leray, Brandon-Mong and Meusnier primers. These results are relevant for the conservation biology of this endangered species as they allow a better characterization of its food and habitat requirements.