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The Journal of heredity

DNA Barcoding Identifies Illegal Parrot Trade.


PMID 26245790

Abstract

Illegal trade threatens the survival of many wild species, and molecular forensics can shed light on various questions raised during the investigation of cases of illegal trade. Among these questions is the identity of the species involved. Here we report a case of a man who was caught in a Brazilian airport trying to travel with 58 avian eggs. He claimed they were quail eggs, but authorities suspected they were from parrots. The embryos never hatched and it was not possible to identify them based on morphology. As 29% of parrot species are endangered, the identity of the species involved was important to establish a stronger criminal case. Thus, we identified the embryos' species based on the analyses of mitochondrial DNA sequences (cytochrome c oxidase subunit I gene [COI] and 16S ribosomal DNA). Embryonic COI sequences were compared with those deposited in BOLD (The Barcode of Life Data System) while their 16S sequences were compared with GenBank sequences. Clustering analysis based on neighbor-joining was also performed using parrot COI and 16S sequences deposited in BOLD and GenBank. The results, based on both genes, indicated that 57 embryos were parrots (Alipiopsitta xanthops, Ara ararauna, and the [Amazona aestiva/A. ochrocephala] complex), and 1 was an owl. This kind of data can help criminal investigations and to design species-specific anti-poaching strategies, and demonstrate how DNA sequence analysis in the identification of bird species is a powerful conservation tool.