The accuracy of scat identification in distribution surveys: American mink, Neovison vison, in the northern highlands of Scotland
Harrington LA., Harrington AL., Hughes J., Stirling D., Macdonald DW.
Distribution data for elusive species are often based on detection of field signs rather than of the animal itself. However, identifying field signs can be problematic. We present here the results of a survey for American mink, Neovison vison, in the northern highlands of Scotland to demonstrate the importance of verifying field sign identification. Three experienced surveyors located scats, which they identified as mink scats, at seven of 147 sites surveyed and "possible" mink scats at a further 50 sites. Mitochondrial DNA was successfully extracted from 45 of 75 (60%) scats, collected from 31 of the 57 "positive" sites; sequencing of amplified DNA fragments showed that none of these scats was actually of mink origin. We consider the implications of erroneous survey data and the potential waste of resources and misdirection of conservation/management actions. We discuss potential methods that may be useful to verify field sign identification, including the use of DNA analysis, and stress that verification is crucial to ensure rigorous and reliable survey data. © 2009 Springer-Verlag.