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Scientists gather bobcat DNA from paw prints

Scientists can now extract genetic information about bobcats from their paw prints.

The DNA can offer clues about the animals’ ancestry and even their microbes — vital information for monitoring one of Arizona’s most common predators.

As reported in a paper published the journal Biological Conservation, the technique is precise enough to distinguish a bobcat from a Canada lynx (a close cousin species with an overlapping distribution range), which would be impossible using tracks alone.

Climate change, habitat loss and biodiversity declines underscore the need for better species monitoring.

But historically that has meant in-person surveys, live traps or recordings.

Through the emerging field of environmental DNA, or eDNA, scientists are learning to gather genetic material from oil, water or even air.

In this case, a happenstance sighting of bobcats in Florida led a scientist to sample soils from their paw prints and calibrate his findings with samples from the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

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Nicholas Gerbis was a senior field correspondent for KJZZ’s Arizona Science Desk from 2016 to 2024.