Long-term field observations, with the aid of photo identification and radio-tracking technology, have necessitated the re-evaluation of data on life history parameters gathered from the field. Early studies revolving around manatee genetics have included analyses of allozymes, cytochrome-b, and the d-loop of the mitochondrial control region. However, recent advances in molecular genetic analysis techniques will allow field biologists to ask specific questions to help clarify and define observed relationships between kinship-groups (paternity and maternity) using microsatellites. In addition, important information on manatee behavior, potential reproductive strategies and success, analysis of population genetic structure based on both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA markers, and assessment of critical habitat, such as feeding and wintering grounds, will be amassed to help clarify population parameters. Specifically, the use of microsatellite "fingerprinting" holds great potential for better understanding manatee population biology and genetic structure. This information will be necessary in evaluating current and future management and research strategies.
Future research is directed towards both cytogenetics and molecular sequencing. Chromosome banding studies are planned for utilizing probes for allele marking and identification to recognize specific genes related to disease processes. Studies of mitochondrial DNA haplotype sequencing recently have been completed by researchers at the USGS Sirenia Project and the University of Florida and show distinct populations of West Indian manatees throughout their range. Additional sample analyses from international cooperators are encouraging and continuing. Currently, progress is being made to isolate specific primers (probes) to be used for manatee DNA fingerprinting studies. For the past several years the USGS and FMRI have amassed a collection of samples obtained from both wild and dead manatees in the field and archived for anticipated future analysis. Currently, geneticists are ready to begin examining these samples. In Florida this is a collaborative effort between the USGS, FMRI, UF, Mote Marine Lab, and Wildlife Trust.