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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2023

Novel frontier in wildlife monitoring: Identification of small rodent species from fecal pellets using near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS)

Tuomi, Maria W.; Murguzur, Francisco J. A.; Hoset, Katrine S.; Soininen, Eeva M.; Vesterinen, Eero J.; Utsi, Tove Aa.; Kaino, Sissel; Brathen, Kari Anne


Small rodents are prevalent and functionally important across the world's biomes, making their monitoring salient for ecosystem management, conservation, forestry, and agriculture. There is a growing need for cost-effective and noninvasive methods for large-scale, intensive sampling. Fecal pellet counts readily provide relative abundance indices, and given suitable analytical methods, feces could also allow for the determination of multiple ecological and physiological variables, including community composition. In this context, we developed calibration models for rodent taxonomic determination using fecal near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy (fNIRS). Our results demonstrate fNIRS as an accurate and robust method for predicting genus and species identity of five coexisting subarctic microtine rodent species. We show that sample exposure to weathering increases the method's accuracy, indicating its suitability for samples collected from the field. Diet was not a major determinant of species prediction accuracy in our samples, as diet exhibited large variation and overlap between species. fNIRS could also be applied across regions, as calibration models including samples from two regions provided a good prediction accuracy for both regions. We show fNIRS as a fast and cost-efficient high-throughput method for rodent taxonomic determination, with the potential for cross-regional calibrations and the use on field-collected samples. Importantly, appeal lies in the versatility of fNIRS. In addition to rodent population censuses, fNIRS can provide information on demography, fecal nutrients, stress hormones, and even disease. Given the development of such calibration models, fNIRS analytics could complement novel genetic methods and greatly support ecosystem- and interaction-based approaches to monitoring.


abundance index; diet; DNA metabarcoding; field method; multispecies community; noninvasive sampling; tundra

Published in

Ecology and Evolution
2023, Volume: 13, number: 3, article number: e9857
Publisher: WILEY

    SLU Authors

    • Vesterinen, Eero

      • Department of Ecology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
      • University of Helsinki
      • University of Turku

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