A cost-effective PCR-RFLP method for monitoring invasive American mink: preliminary field test in control areas of Spain.
American mink Neovison vison is a semi-aquatic mustelid that has been introduced throughout Europe. Several attempts to eradicate this invasive species have been carried out since its spread. In the Iberian Peninsula, an eradication program has started since 2001, as part of the national action plan for the conservation of European mink Mustela lutreola. Proper detection is crucial for management, both for monitoring variation in mink abundance and prevent the recolonization of cleared areas. Mink scats can be confounded with those of several same-sized mustelids, and with the spraints of Eurasian otter Lutra lutra, which also occur along watercourses. However, these difficulties can be overcome by non-invasive genetic methods. With the aim of providing a cost-effective and reliable technique for differentiating mink scats from those of the largest possible number of species with morphologically similar scats, we tested the effectiveness of an already available faecal mtDNA-based PCR-RFLP method for distinguishing mink- and otter faeces. We then applied the method for analysing scats collected and identified in the field by trained surveyors for monitoring the success of mink control operations. The PCR-RFLP method clearly differentiated mink scats from those of otters, as restriction enzymes produced well-defined different patterns. Eighty-five percent of 94 faecal samples could be assigned to a mustelid species. Only three out of seven putative mink samples were confirmed, suggesting that the accuracy of the visual identification of scats is questionable and genetic methods are needed for the reliable assessment of the success of eradication programs.