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Invisible eDNA Reveals Stream and Riparian Ecosystem Biodiversity

Photo of 'Watermarks', an illustration by Laura L. Hauck, USDA Forest Service, shows the biodiversity of an aquatic ecosystem that’s encompassed in the transient traces of environmental DNA left behind by the inhabitants. They are like hidden watermarks, when detected they can reveal the diverse assemblage of species present in and around the body of water.'Watermarks', an illustration by Laura L. Hauck, USDA Forest Service, shows the biodiversity of an aquatic ecosystem that’s encompassed in the transient traces of environmental DNA left behind by the inhabitants. They are like hidden watermarks, when detected they can reveal the diverse assemblage of species present in and around the body of water.Snapshot : Environmental DNA is a powerful new approach that, with a single water sample, can detect a host of stream and riparian species—from pathogens to fish to terrestrial animals. It may be able to provide land managers with the data they need to effectively manage freshwater and riparian ecosystems in a far easier way than traditional survey approaches.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Cronn, RichardPenaluna, Brooke
Research Station : Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW)
Year : 2019
Highlight ID : 1578

Summary

Effective management of aquatic ecosystems relies on accurate information about species diversity and abundance. But, the surveys necessary to gather critical information on riparian biodiversity are usually time-consuming and costly, requiring significant coordination across disciplines, managers, and ownerships. Scientists at the USDA Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station are working to develop a new method that can be used to survey aquatic biodiversity: multi-species environmental DNA, or eDNA. Known as the blueprint of life, DNA can be found in the air, water, and soil of a riparian area, anywhere there are shed cells of organisms living in and around a stream. In just a single sample of stream water, multi-species eDNA analysis can detect the diverse community of organisms that rely on that stream, everything from single-cell pathogens to large animals. The scientists tested the efficacy of this new approach in Fall Creek, Oregon, comparing eDNA results with traditional electrofishing survey methods. The eDNA method detected more than 800 different organisms, including all 13 species observed during electrofishing surveys. The scientists are expanding the pilot studies of this method to other streams in Oregon, Washington, and California to continue assessing its potential as a powerful alternative to traditional riparian monitoring.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Pacific Northwest Region
  • National Council for Air and Stream Improvement
  • Oregon State University
  • U.S. Bureau of Land Management