Conservation genetic analyses of wildlife have increased greatly in the past 10 yr, yet genetic studies of parrots are rare because of difficulties associated with capturing them and obtaining samples. Recent studies have demonstrated that molted feathers can provide a useful source of DNA, but success rates have varied considerably among studies. Our objective was to determine if molted macaw feathers from Blue-and-yellow Macaws (Ara ararauna), Scarlet Macaws (A. macao), and Red-and-green Macaws (A. chloropterus) collected from rainforest geophagy sites called clay licks could provide a good source of DNA for population genetic studies. Specific objectives were to determine (1) how nuclear DNA microsatellite amplification success and genotyping error rates for plucked macaw feathers compared to those for molted feathers collected from clay licks in the Amazon rainforest, and (2) if feather size, feather condition, species, or extraction method affected microsatellite amplification success or genotyping error rates from molted feathers. Amplification success and error rates were calculated using duplicate analyses of four microsatellite loci. We found that plucked feathers were an excellent source of DNA, with significantly higher success rates (P< 0.0001) and lower error rates (P = 0.0002) than for molted feathers. However, relatively high success rates (75.6%) were obtained for molted feathers, with a genotyping error rate of 11.7%. For molted feathers, we had higher success rates and lower error rates for large feathers than small feathers and for feathers in good condition than feathers that were moldy and broken when collected. We also found that longer incubation times and lower elution volumes yielded the highest quality DNA when extracting with the Qiagen DNeasy tissue kit. Our study demonstrates that molted feathers can be a valuable source of genetic material even in the challenging conditions of tropical rainforests, and our results provide valuable information for maximizing DNA amplification success rates when working with shed feathers of parrots.
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