Research, Wildlife and Landscape Science

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Wildlife Forensics

Wildlife conservation research uses DNA fingerprinting and enzyme analysis to differentiate between species, populations, and individuals, and derive information pertaining to population dynamics and mating structure from wildlife tissue samples. This information is applied in law enforcement activities and conservation actions.

Golden Winged Warbler  | Photo : Carl SavignacConservation actions

Conservation genetics research has helped identify that hybridization can pose a threat to some species because it compromises genetic integrity and causes a subsequent reduction in biodiversity.

For example, using maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA markers, researchers have recently examined the rate and direction of gene flow between blue-winged warblers and threatened golden-winged warblers. Mitochondrial introgression has helped identify that the common strategy of interbreeding between these species can lead to local extirpation of the genetically pure populations of threatened golden-winged warblers.

This information is used by wildlife managers to identify threats to species at risk and develop conservation actions to protect and recover species under the Species at Risk Act.

Law enforcement actions

Genetic information is especially important when identifying species of unknown origin in enforcement cases, as DNA evidence is essential for successful prosecution of many wildlife related offences.

Image of illegally imported products | Photo: Environment CanadaEnvironment Canada is the lead agency responsible for implementing the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and has a regulatory duty to enforce provisions of the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act. More than 30,000 wildlife species are currently listed under various appendices and may have trade restrictions in place that prevent them from entering Canada. Genetic information derived from suspect samples provides authoritative scientific evidence for prosecution efforts.

The Canadian government is empowered to pass and enforce regulations to protect species of birds listed under the Migratory Birds Convention Act by name or by inference. Determining taxonomic origin and other information through DNA analysis will help identify activities that contravene the legislation. In addition, genetic information may provide new data on species abundance and distribution and could inform the Migratory Birds Regulations.

Image of wildlife enforcement officer inspecting waterfowl carcass | Photo: Environment CanadaIn collaboration with Environment Canada’s Enforcement Branch, wildlife forensic expertise contributes to the inspection and investigation process, and will increase rates of successful prosecution and compliance with laws and regulations to better protect and conserve wildlife species in Canada.

A new conservation genetics laboratory at the National Wildlife Research Centre in Ottawa, Ontario will provide in-house support of such efforts. Recent investments in specialized equipment and supplies such as a real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR)instrument, a DNA fragment analyzer and a DNA quantification system will provide increased capacity to support conservation genetics research. Laboratory services include sampling protocol, development, case-specific observations, evidence examination and expert witnesses.

Experts in wildlife forensics

Further reading

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