Dna footprints: Using parasites to detect elusive animals, proof of principle in hedgehogs

Simon Allen*, Carolyn Greig, Ben Rowson, Robin B. Gasser, Abdul Jabbar, Simone Morelli, Eric R. Morgan, Martyn Wood, Dan Forman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)
73 Downloads (Pure)


The Western European Hedgehog (Erinaceous europaeus) is a nocturnal animal that is in decline in much of Europe, but the monitoring of this species is subjective, prone to error, and an inadequate basis for estimating population trends. Here, we report the use of Crenosoma striatum, a parasitic nematode specific to hedgehogs as definitive hosts, to detect hedgehog presence in the natural environment. This is achieved through collecting and sampling the parasites within their intermediate hosts, gastropoda, a group much simpler to locate and sample in both urban and rural habitats. C. striatum and Crenosoma vulpis were collected post-mortem from the lungs of hedgehogs and foxes, respectively. Slugs were collected in two sessions, during spring and autumn, from Skomer Island (n = 21), which is known to be free of hedgehogs (and foxes); and Pennard, Swansea (n = 42), known to have a healthy hedgehog population. The second internal transcribed spacer of parasite ribosomal DNA was used to develop a highly specific, novel, PCR based multiplex assay. Crenosoma striatum was found only at the site known to be inhabited by hedgehogs, at an average prevalence in gastropods of 10% in spring and autumn. The molecular test was highly specific: One mollusc was positive for both C. striatum and C. vulpis, and differentiation between the two nematode species was clear. This study demonstrates proof of principle for using detection of specific parasite DNA in easily sampled intermediate hosts to confirm the presence of an elusive nocturnal definitive host species. The approach has great potential as an adaptable, objective tool to supplement and support existing ecological survey methods.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1420
Pages (from-to)1-13
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 14 Aug 2020


  • Biological tag
  • Crenosoma striatum
  • Gastropod
  • Hedgehog
  • Nematode
  • PCR
  • RDNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • General Veterinary


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