Background: Microsatellite loci have been used extensively over the past two decades to study the genetic characteristics of non-model species. The ease of microsatellite development and ability to adapt markers from related species has led to the proliferation of available markers for many commonly studied species. Because it is often infeasible to genotype individuals across all available loci, researchers generally rely on subsets of markers. Marker choice can bias inferences made using disparate suites of loci. This has been a primary motivation for efforts to identify uniform marker panels. Here, we use the geographic distribution of previous studies to identify microsatellite loci for white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) with the potential for widespread use, and we evaluate the effectiveness of this panel in a portion of the range where few previous studies have been conducted. The purpose was to consolidate the numerous genetic resources for this species into a manageable panel and to provide a uniform methodology that improves comparisons between past and future studies. Results: We reviewed microsatellite panels from 58 previous or ongoing projects and identified 106 candidate loci. We developed a multiplex protocol and evaluated the efficacy of 17 of the most commonly used loci using 720 DNA samples collected from the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States of America. Amplification errors were detected in six of these loci. The 11 remaining loci were highly polymorphic, exhibited low frequencies of null alleles, and were easy to interpret with the aid of allele binning software. Conclusions: The development of broadly-applicable, core microsatellite panels has the potential to improve repeatability and comparative ability for commonly studied species. The properties of the consolidated 11 microsatellite panel suggest that they are applicable for many common research objectives for white-tailed deer. The geographic distribution of previous studies using these markers provides a greater degree of confidence regarding the robustness to common sources of error related to amplification anomalies, such as null alleles, relative to loci with more limited use. While this does not replace further evaluation of genotyping errors, it does provide a common platform that benefits future research studies.
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