Although botanical trace evidence is often encountered in case investigations, the utilization of such traces in forensic investigations is still limited. Development of a forensic STR system for the two species of Betula (birch) indigenous to and abundant in North West Europe is a step in enhancing the applicability of traces from these species. We describe six microsatellite markers developed for birch species in detail, including repeat structure, and we propose a nomenclature for the encountered alleles. To assess the population characteristics, the genetic composition of wild, planted and intermediate populations of Betula pendula (a diploid species) and Betula pubescens (a tetraploid species) were investigated. The genetic differences between these two species were larger than the differences between populations of one species, even when both species co-occurred at one location. Therefore allele frequencies were estimated for both species separately. General, conservative random match probabilities were estimated for wild trees based on these allele frequencies (5∙10−6 for the diploid B. pendula and 1∙10−13 for the tetraploid B. pubescens), illustrating the potential relevance if trace evidence secured from a suspect is found to match a birch tree growing on or near a crime scene. Apart from wild trees, planted Betula trees also occur that may not originate from seeds, but may have been propagated through cloning. Based on the studied Betula trees, the random match probability of a potentially planted profile might be as high as 1.4∙10−2.
- Forensic botany