News Release

DNA barcoding of animal tool materials

Peer-Reviewed Publication

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

A wild New Caledonian crow holding a hooked stick tool.

image: A wild New Caledonian crow holding a hooked stick tool. view more 

Credit: Image credit: James J. H. St Clair.

DNA barcoding can help identify the plant species that New Caledonian crows use as tools, according to a study. Although the raw materials selected by animals for tool manufacture affect tool properties and quality, identifying the plant species used to make tools is often challenging, partly due to processing of the materials. Christian Rutz and colleagues employed DNA barcoding techniques to identify the plant species that wild New Caledonian crows use to fashion complex hooked stick tools. Using DNA extracted from seven tools collected during 2016-2017, the authors examined two barcoding regions to narrow the possible plant source to the Mimusops or Manilkara genera. Further analysis identified Mimusops elengi as the raw material, which was readily used by temporarily captive New Caledonian crows to make tools. The results could help researchers examine whether between-population differences in raw material choice is due to variation in crows' preferences or plant availability. According to the authors, DNA barcoding could help researchers identify plant materials used as tools when traditional observational methods are not feasible or when the materials are heavily modified and could also identify materials in museum and research collections.

Article #20-20699: "DNA barcoding identifies cryptic animal tool materials," by Matthew P. Steele, Linda E. Neaves, et al.

MEDIA CONTACT: Christian Rutz, University of St Andrews, UNITED KINGDOM; tel: +44 (0) 7792 851538; email:


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