There is a growing recognition of parasites as a significant factor in the successful conservation of endangered species. Determining parasite infection and load in free-ranging populations traditionally is done via necropsy or coproscopy. For studies of wild animals, fecal sample collection can result in bias because the individual identity of animals is unknown and multiple samples may be collected from the same individual, yet treated as unrelated samples. We studied parasite load in wild giant pandas (Ailuropoda melanoleuca) across six mountain ranges in China. Genetic identification was used to determine the exact number of individuals sampled. The parasite fauna consisted of five species, dominated by Baylisascaris shroederi. The pattern of statistical difference between mountains was artificially inflated when animal identity was not included in the model. Our results suggest that caution should be exercised in inferring patterns from comparative parasitologic studies when samples cannot be attributed to specific individuals. Using noninvasive genetic sampling to avoid such bias should form a standard tool in the management of endangered species and their parasites.
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Vol. 47 • No. 1