With recent advances in molecular biology, it is now possible to use the trace amounts of DNA in faeces to non-invasively sample endangered species for genetic studies. A highly vulnerable population of approximately 100 great bustards (Otis tarda) exists in Morocco necessitating the use of non-invasive protocols to study their genetic structure. Here we report a reliable silica-based method to extract DNA from great bustard faeces. We found that successful extraction and amplification correlated strongly with faeces freshness and composition. We could not extract amplifiable DNA from 30% of our samples as they were dry or contained insect material. However 100% of our fresh faecal samples containing no obvious insect material worked, allowing us to assess the levels of genetic variation among 25 individuals using a 542 bp control region sequence. We were able to extract DNA from four out of five other avian species, demonstrating that faeces represents a suitable source of DNA for population genetics studies in a broad range of species.
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