Investigation of ancient DNA to enhance natural history museum collections: misidentification of smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata) specimens across multiple museums

Filippo Barbanera, Beatrice Moretti, Monica Guerrini, Omar F. Al-Sheikhly, Giovanni Forcina


Historical and modern natural museum collections are storehouses of extraordinary value for scientific research in a wide range of fields. Recent advances in molecular biotechnology (e.g., next generation genomics) have increased the range of collection material employable for DNA-based analyses to unprecedented levels. Nevertheless, the value of museum specimens strictly depends on reliability of data associated with them. We report on investigations of ancient DNA from specimens of smooth-coated otter (Lutrogale perspicillata, Mustelidae), the largest otter species living in Asia, in US and European mammal collections. Mitochondrial DNA Cytochrome-b gene sequencing proved that the studied specimens were not the expected taxon. Indeed, they actually belonged to three different species, namely the Asian small-clawed (Aonyx cinereus), Eurasian (Lutra lutra) and African clawless (Aonyx capensis) otters. This represents the first record of mustelid misidentification from museum collections. Detection of errors can be extremely difficult when based only on collectors’ notes and data. Hence, we warn scientists involved in otter research about potential challenges when dealing with museum specimens. We recommend curators pursue a multidisciplinary approach, including DNA analyses, to accurately catalogue the resources under their management and uphold the value of biodiversity information.


error; genetic identity; mistaken cataloguing; mitochondrial DNA; specimen label

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