An overview to the investigative approach to species testing in wildlife forensic science

Adrian Linacre, Shanan Tobe

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Abstract

The extent of wildlife crime is unknown but it is on the increase and has observable effects with the dramatic decline in many species of flora and fauna. The growing awareness of this area of criminal activity is reflected in the increase in research papers on animal DNA testing, either for the identification of species or for the genetic linkage of a sample to a particular organism. This review focuses on the use of species testing in wildlife crime investigations. Species identification relies primarily on genetic loci within the mitochondrial genome; focusing on the cytochrome b and cytochrome oxidase 1 genes. The use of cytochrome b gained early prominence in species identification through its use in taxonomic and phylogenetic studies, while the gene sequence for cytochrome oxidase was adopted by the Barcode for Life research group. This review compares how these two loci are used in species identification with respect to wildlife crime investigations. As more forensic science laboratories undertake work in the wildlife area, it is important that the quality of work is of the highest standard and that the conclusions reached are based on scientific principles. A key issue in reporting on the identification of a particular species is a knowledge of both the intraspecies variation and the possible overlap of sequence variation from one species to that of a closely related species. Recent data showing this degree of genetic separation in mammalian species will allow greater confidence when preparing a report on an alleged event where the identification of the species is of prime importance. The aim of this review is to illustrate aspects of species testing in wildlife forensic science and to explain how a knowledge of genetic variation at the genus and species level can aid in the reporting of results.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2
Number of pages9
JournalInvestigative Genetics
Volume2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jan 2011

Keywords

  • flora and fauna
  • species identification
  • forensic science
  • wildlife crime
  • genetic linkage
  • animal DNA testing

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