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Non-Invasive Genetic Sampling

Genetics lab researchers

The USDA Forest Service and other Federal and State agencies have enormous responsibilities to effectively monitor the lands that they manage and the species found therein. Through science-management partnerships, Forest Service scientists are ensuring that these monitoring data are collected in the most efficient and effective manner and are leveraging these data to develop models and tools that inform management decisions and strategies. Forest Service researchers specialize in non-invasive genetic sampling, an innovative method of monitoring wildlife.

Non-invasive genetic sampling uses forensic-style DNA samples, such as hair, scats and feathers collected without ever seeing an animal, to monitor rare and sensitive species. This non-invasive approach offers a number of advantages over conventional methods, including increased probability of "capturing" an individual, reduced loss of tags, and minimizing the effects of capture and tagging on animals. New genomic technologies allow researchers to use enviromental DNA (eDNA) to detect free-floating DNA in soil, water, and air.

Ongoing Species Studies

  • Fisher
  • Wolverine
  • Lynx
  • Sage Grouse
  • Marten
  • Cougar
  • Bobcat
  • Woodpecker
  • Wolves
  • Moose
  • Deer
  • Bighorn Sheep
  • Fish


Genetics lab
  • Species Identification
  • Individual Identification
  • Sex Identification
  • Re-capture Analysis
  • Population Assignment
  • Population Genetic Analysis
  • Landscape Genetic Analysis

Selected Publications

Roffler, Gretchen H.; Talbot, Sandra L.; Luikart, Gordon; Sage, George K.; Pilgrim, Kristy L.; Adams, Layne G.; Schwartz, Michael K. 2014. Lack of sex-biased dispersal promotes fine-scale genetic structure in alpine ungulates. Conservation Genetics. 15:4 837-851.

Olson, Lucretia E.; Sauder, Joel D.; Albrecht, Nathan M.; Vinkey, Ray S.; Cushman, Samuel A.; Schwartz, Michael K. 2014. Modeling the effects of dispersal and patch size on predicted fisher (Pekania [Martes] pennanti) distribution in the U.S. Rocky Mountains. Biological Conservation. 169: 89-98.

Tucker, Jody M.; Schwartz, Michael K.; Truex, Richard L.; Pilgrim, Kristine L.; Allendorf, Fred W. 2012. Historical and contemporary DNA indicate fisher decline and isolation occurred prior to the European settlement of California. PLoS ONE. 7(12): e52803.

Russell, Robin E.; Royle, J. Andrew; Desimone, Richard; Schwartz, Michael K.; Edwards, Victoria L.; Pilgrim, Kristy P.; McKelvey, Kevin S. 2012. Estimating abundance of mountain lions from unstructured spatial sampling. The Journal of Wildlife Management. doi: 10.1002/jwmg.412.

Brinkman, Todd J.; Person, David K.; Schwartz, Michael K.; Pilgrim, Kristine L.; Colson, Kevin E.; Hundertmark, Kris J. 2010. Individual identification of Sitka black-tailed deer (Odocoileus hemionus sitkensis) using DNA from fecal pellets. Conservation Genetics Resources. 2: 115-118.

Marucco, Francesca; Pletscher, Daniel H.; Boitani, Luigi; Schwartz, Michael K.; Pilgrim, Kristy L.; Lebreton, Jean-Dominique. 2009. Wolf survival and population trend using non-invasive capture-recapture techniques in the Western Alps. Journal of Applied Ecology. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2009.01696.x_ 2009.

Schwartz, Michael K.; Luikart, Gordon; Waples Robin S. 2007. Genetic monitoring as a promising tool for conservation and management. Trends in Ecology & Evolution. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2006.08.009.

For more Forest Service publications, visit Treesearch.