The initiation of a conservation genetics program at the Wildlife Conservation Society in 1989 resulted in a dedicated effort to collect and bank biomaterials in support of this new research effort. Blood and tissue samples were opportunistically collected from the zoo and aquarium animals and stored frozen. Additional samples collected in the field by WCS International Conservation staff were also targeted based on opportunity and interest by individual researchers. New developments in DNA extraction procedures and optimization of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology allowed for an expansion of sample types to include hair, feathers, feces, dried material, and other non-traditional sources of genetic material. The result of this effort was the acquisition of an extraordinarily valuable resource to support important in situ and ex situ conservation research. Presented here are three examples of applied conservation research projects that were directly dependent on this biomaterial banking effort. First, the genetic assessment of appropriate release candidates for the black and white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata variegata) reintroduction program demonstrates the value of banking both samples from collection animals (especially founders) and from in situ populations.3 Secondly, current research in developing a novel, noninvasive sexing technique for amazon parrots and the construction of specific microsatellite markers illustrates the value of using genotyping to manage a large ex situ population for which no pedigree information is available.1,2 Finally, the critical importance of biomaterial banking to monitoring the trade in wildlife is demonstrated by recent collaborations between our WCS Wildlife Forensics Program and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and Department of Agriculture. These projects have resulted in seizures of illegally imported skins and meat products from endangered species. While the value of biomaterial banking for conservation research is well demonstrated by these examples, it is clear that additional resources and procedures for biomaterial banking must be developed and supported to meet the current challenges to loss of biodiversity.
1. Russello, M.A., D. Calcagnotto, R. DeSalle, and G. Amato. 2001.Characterization of microsatellite loci in the endangered St. Vincent Parrot, Amazona guildingii. Molecular Ecology Notes. 1(3):162–164.
2. Russello, M.A. and G. Amato. 2001. Application of a noninvasive, PCR-based test for sex identification in an endangered parrot, Amazona guildingii. Zoo Biology. 20:41–45.
3. Wyner, Y., G. Amato, and R. DeSalle. 1999. Captive breeding, reintroduction, and the conservation genetics of black and white ruffed lemurs, Varecia variegata variegata. Molecular Ecology. 8:S12:107–116.