Mitochondrial DNA-based species testing of confiscated aquatic wildlife in the Philippines

Elsevier, Forensic Science International: Animals and Environments, Volume 2, December 2022
Poniente J.A., Pereda J.M.R., Dela Pena J.T., Ventolero M.F.H., Santos M.D.

Illegal wildlife trade (IWT) is a global concern and a major threat to biodiversity conservation. In the Philippines, enforcement of laws related to aquatic wildlife is actively pursued pursuant to the Republic Act (RA) 9147 otherwise known as the Wildlife Resources Conservation and Protection Act and RA 8550 or the Philippine Fisheries Code of 1998 as amended by RA 10654. The National Fisheries Research and Development Institute - Genetic Fingerprinting Laboratory (NFRDI-GFL), functions as lead laboratory for identifying aquatic species in the country using genetic markers pursuant to Philippine Executive Order 154, series of 2013. Philippine law enforcement agencies send confiscated aquatic wildlife samples to NFRDI-GFL for identifying species since 2012 to present. DNA-based species identification of wildlife often uses mitochondrial genes such as Cytochrome c oxidase 1 (CO1) and Cytochrome b (Cytb). Here, a total of 114 individual from confiscation events mostly from Metro Manila and Davao regions were identified using CO1 and Cytb, and their trace files stored in the NFRDI-GFL database. Of the 114 individuals, 26 species have been identified; 16 are under threatened category under IUCN, 17 are listed under the CITES Appendices and 21 are considered as regulated under Philippine Laws. Taken together, this study shows that IWT for aquatic species is evident in the country. Moreover, the use of mitochondrial DNA-based methods can provide accurate species identification, hence allowing for better monitoring and tracking of IWT to support fisheries management and conservation in the country.