North American River Otters (Lontra canadensis) once thrived in large numbers in most wetlands of North America. However, due to human pressures such as trapping, habitat loss and pollution, these carnivorous mammals have decreased in numbers significantly in the last 100+ years, becoming extirpated in many traditionally inhabited areas. The use of genetic data from molecular techniques (PCR, DNA sequencing) can guide the identification and management of populations used for relocations to better maintain genetic diversity in both wild and captive otter populations and help inform the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) breeding programs. Management organizations are concerned with the possibility of multiple paternity in the management of small captive populations. Therefore, molecular tests that show positive paternity/parentage are useful for managing small populations. This study deployed a suite of ten previously developed microsatellite loci as tests of parentage in a few families and to show a proof of concept that the set of loci would be suitable for Lontra canadensis populations. The study confirmed parentage for one family unit and cast out sire parentage for another. This study used (1122 of 1140 bp) mitochondrial DNA sequences from the cytochrome b locus to reconstruct relationships of 31 haplotypes from many US localities from both AZA and wild populations totaling over 100 individuals (~40% of the captive AZA population). Haplotype relationships reveal (1) 5 haplogroups, (2) shallow divergences (0-0.5%) among lineages and (3) a moderate divergence (0.7-1%) between haplogroup V from the Atlantic US coast and the remaining US haplogroups. The data reveal the AZA population maintains a mixture of 24 haplotypes and 5 haplogroups, with most animals within one large haplogroup (II) and fewer in the remaining haplogroups identified. The NYS samples represent 7 unique haplotypes plus 2 shared haplotypes (with AZA) within 3 haplogroups.
Environmental Science (MS)
Department, Program, or Center
Thomas H. Gosnell School of Life Sciences (COS)
Lawton, Kelsey, "Assessment and Deployment of Genetic Tools for North American River Otters (Lontra canadensis)" (2021). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
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