Non-invasive genetic sampling and individual identification

Pierre Taberlet, Gordon Luikart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

429 Scopus citations


Individual identification via non-invasive sampling is of prime importance in conservation genetics and in behavioural ecology. This approach allows for genetics studies of wild animals without having to catch them, or even to observe them. The material used as a source of DNA is usually faeces, shed hairs, or shed feathers. It has been recently shown that this material may lead to genotyping errors, mainly due to allelic dropout. In addition to these technical errors, there are problems with accurately estimating the probability of identity (PI, or the probability of two individuals having identical genotypes) because of the presence of close relatives in natural populations. As a consequence, before initiating an extensive study involving non-invasive sampling, we strongly suggest conducting a pilot study to assess both the technical difficulties and the PI for the genetic markers to be used. This pilot study could be carried out in three steps: (i) estimation of the PI using preliminary genetic data; (ii) simulations taking into account the PI and choosing the technical error rate that is sufficiently low for assessing the scientific question; (iii) polymerase chain reaction (PCR) experiments to check if it is technically possible to achieve this error rate.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-55
Number of pages15
JournalBiological Journal of the Linnean Society
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 1999


  • Allelic dropout
  • Behavioural ecology
  • Conservation genetics
  • Faeces
  • Feathers
  • Hairs
  • Individual identification
  • Microsatellites
  • Pilot study
  • Probability of identity


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