Combining methods for non-invasive fecal DNA enables whole genome and metagenomic analyses in wildlife biology

Alida de Flamingh, Yasuko Ishida, Patrícia Pečnerová, Sahara Vilchis, Hans R. Siegismund, Rudi J. Van aarde, Ripan S. Malhi, Alfred L. Roca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Non-invasive biological samples benefit studies that investigate rare, elusive, endangered, or dangerous species. Integrating genomic techniques that use non-invasive biological sampling with advances in computational approaches can benefit and inform wildlife conservation and management. Here, we used non-invasive fecal DNA samples to generate low- to medium-coverage genomes (e.g., >90% of the complete nuclear genome at six X-fold coverage) and metagenomic sequences, combining widely available and accessible DNA collection cards with commonly used DNA extraction and library building approaches. DNA preservation cards are easy to transport and can be stored non-refrigerated, avoiding cumbersome or costly sample methods. The genomic library construction and shotgun sequencing approach did not require enrichment or targeted DNA amplification. The utility and potential of the data generated was demonstrated through genome scale and metagenomic analyses of zoo and free-ranging African savanna elephants (Loxodonta africana). Fecal samples collected from free-ranging individuals contained an average of 12.41% (5.54–21.65%) endogenous elephant DNA. Clustering of these elephants with others from the same geographic region was demonstrated by a principal component analysis of genetic variation using nuclear genome-wide SNPs. Metagenomic analyses identified taxa that included Loxodonta, green plants, fungi, arthropods, bacteria, viruses and archaea, showcasing the utility of this approach for addressing complementary questions based on host-associated DNA, e.g., pathogen and parasite identification. The molecular and bioinformatic analyses presented here contributes towards the expansion and application of genomic techniques to conservation science and practice.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number1021004
JournalFrontiers in Genetics
StatePublished - Jan 12 2023


  • endangered species
  • nuclear genome
  • molecular pipeline
  • metagenomic analysis
  • L. africana
  • fecal DNA


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