Plant DNA sequences from feces: potential means for assessing diets of wild primates
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Analyses of plant DNA in feces provides a promising, yet largely unexplored, means of documenting the diets of elusive primates. Here we demonstrate the promise and pitfalls of this approach using DNA extracted from fecal samples of wild western gorillas (Gorilla gorilla) and black and white colobus monkeys (Colobus guereza). From these DNA extracts we amplified, cloned, and sequenced small segments of chloroplast DNA (part of the rbcL gene) and plant nuclear DNA (ITS-2). The obtained sequences were compared to sequences generated from known plant samples and to those in GenBank to identify plant taxa in the feces. With further optimization, this method could provide a basic evaluation of minimum primate dietary diversity even when knowledge of local flora is limited. This approach may find application in studies characterizing the diets of poorly-known, unhabituated primate species or assaying consumer-resource relationships in an ecosystem.
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