Susana Gonzalez, Ph.D.
Organization: Division Citogenetica-IIBCE
Location: San Miguel National Park, Uruguay
Research: Carnivore Abundance and Gene Flow at San Miguel National Park
The objective of this project is to provide a faunal inventory of large mammals to assist in the understanding of the ecosystem dynamics within San Miguel National Park. This protected area represents a valuable sample of local biodiversity and ecosystems, but management plans and buffer zones have not been created. The information gathered from this investigation can be utilized by park officials to assist in the active protection of this area, and will also provide important biological diversity information for management and education activities in this area.
Project Update: July 2005
This project was the first research conducted in Uruguay using non-invasive sampling techniques including camera traps and fecal analysis. The combination of field research with molecular genetics techniques are new tools that provide valuable biological information while minimizing the human impact to the ecosystem. The results were important to obtain biodiversity information to ask the park authorities to take conservation and management actions. The image bank is useful to park managers to keep records of large mammals species accounts. They are also used for educational and dissemination purposes to the general public. The inventory information contributes information about the species and the ecosystem dynamics in order to propose a buffer area.
We designed a fast and reliable method of differentiating large mammals that utilizes non-invasively collected samples from feces. This methodology can be applied to determine the species abundance. A primer set that amplifies a short fragment of the mtDNA control region was designed. This fragment contains a Spe I digestion site unique to the crab eathing fox (C. thous). Successful PCR-RFLP products showed a clear single band for the pampas fox (P. gymnocercus) and a double band for C. thous in 3% agarose gels. Fifty samples were analyzed from different Uruguayan locations. Results showed that 75% of the samples were identified as C. thous, suggesting that this species has a wider distribution and would be more abundant than P. gymnocercus.
Undergraduate and graduate students participated in field work and laboratory analysis. A Conservation Biology course was conducted in the rural school Los Indios-Rocha. The course addressed both children and parents. Images obtained during the large mammal survey were shown.
The long-term goal of this project is to contribute to biodiversity conservation in Uruguay through the knowledge obtained during the large mammal inventory survey. Results have implications to Canidae conservation. Grasslands are the most abundant habitats in Uruguay, representing approximately 80% of the country, providing adequate habitat for the pampas fox. Ranchers continue an extermination campaign against the pampas fox believing that it is a large predator of the lamb. The crab eating fox is located in various habitats including bush, semi-open savannas, forests and river banks. The genetic assessment showed that the pampas fox was less abundant than the crab eating fox.
The results showed a need to continue gathering information about the fox species, analyzing the genetic variability, population structure, gene flow patterns and possible hybridization. Additionally, in order to understand the role of these predators in the ecosystem, there is a need to implement studies to analyze the foxes' diets. A valuable feces bank is already built, which will be useful in analyzing diets. Information will contribute to the management of species inside the protected area of San Miguel National Park.