Landcare Research - Manaaki Whenua

Landcare-Research -Manaaki Whenua

Kiwi DNA: No blood spilled

The kiwi is an important national symbol and key native species, so every care should be taken to ensure conservation efforts do no harm. Kiwi are delicate creatures, prone to stress, and not surprisingly they do not like giving blood for DNA testing.

Seeing the need for a better method, the biodiversity and conservation team at Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research developed a new kiwi DNA testing tool using feathers and faeces instead.

While DNA has been extracted from bird droppings, and used for mitochondrial analyses and sex determination studies, it is not widely used for population genetics and estimating population size.

Undeterred, Manaaki Whenua gathered 100 feather and scat samples from kiwi at the Westshore Wildlife Reserve (Napier), Auckland Zoo (Auckland) and Kiwi Encounter (Rainbow Springs, Rotorua).

The team used DNA testing methods to develop a comprehensive kiwi marker panel to discriminate between major lineages and provenances within multiple kiwi species, and to retrieve population-level genetic data for conservation management.

They developed a successful extraction method, and the DNA results produced reliable genotypes. Manaaki Whenua population geneticist Daniel White said there’s respite in store for kiwi. ‘The use of opportunistic kiwi DNA sources is not only less invasive, but could also be particularly suitable in those remote areas that are currently unmanaged and for which less is known.’