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The eDNAtlas project: A national map of aquatic biodiversity

Date: June 07, 2018

eDNA sampling provides a low-cost & sensitive method for determining which species occur in water bodies. Rapid adoption of eDNA sampling by many natural resource agencies led to an exponential increase in data and the need for an open-access database.


Aquatic environmental DNA sampling is rapidly transforming our ability to describe and monitor biological communities. Adoption of this sampling technology has occurred broadly across many natural resource organizations in the United States, with samples being collected at thousands of sites each year. The National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation pioneered development of eDNA sampling of aquatic environments at their laboratory in Missoula, MT. The Center has partnered with dozens of National Forests, as well as other state, federal, tribal, and private natural resource organizations to assist in the collection and processing of eDNA samples. eDNA sampling provides a low-cost & sensitive method for determining which species occur in water bodies. Thousands of eDNA samples are collected annually and constitute a rapidly growing biodiversity archive. 


To reduce redundancy and maximize data sharing among organizations, the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation commissioned the Aquatic eDNAtlas Project. This project was designed to develop a comprehensive interagency database, sampling template maps, and a website to ensure standardization of data collections; while providing access to samples collected with the USDA Forest Service National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation. Data on the website are provided in flexible digital formats that enable efficient use for many purposes, which could include species status assessments, trend monitoring, distribution modeling, detection and tracking of nonnative species invasions, and assessments of habitat restoration efforts. The eDNAtlas project could potentially encompass all species throughout all aquatic habitats--rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, wetlands, and springs--in the U.S. where collaborating partners are interested in sampling.

Key Findings

The website and open-access database were launched in June 2018 with approximately 6,000 samples and is updated semi-annually with newly processed samples.

  • eDNA sampling is rapid, reliable, and inexpensive compared to many traditional aquatic sampling techniques.
  • A standardized field protocol enables consistent sampling of eDNA by different agencies or citizen scientists at unprecedented spatial extents and resolutions.
  • The open-access eDNAtlas database provides a permanent digital archive of species occurrence information and facilitates data sharing and repurposing to accomplish  conservation and management goals


The Aquatic eDNAtlas Project Website

Featured Publications

Wilcox, T. M. ; Carim, Kellie ; Young, Michael K. ; McKelvey, Kevin S. ; Franklin, Thomas ; Schwartz, Michael K. , 2018
Carim, Kellie ; McKelvey, Kevin S. ; Young, Michael K. ; Wilcox, Taylor M. ; Schwartz, Michael K. , 2016
McKelvey, Kevin S. ; Young, Michael K. ; Knotek, W. L. ; Carim, Kellie ; Wilcox, T. M. ; Padgett-Stewart, T. M. ; Schwartz, Michael K. , 2016
Wilcox, Taylor M. ; McKelvey, Kevin S. ; Young, Michael K. ; Sepulveda, Adam J. ; Shepard, Bradley B. ; Jane, Stephen F. ; Whiteley, Andrew R. ; Lowe, Winsor H. ; Schwartz, Michael K. , 2016
Wilcox, Taylor M. ; Carim, Kellie ; McKelvey, Kevin S. ; Young, Michael K. ; Schwartz, Michael K. , 2015

Forest Service Partners: 
Keith Nislow (USFS, Northern Research Station), Andy Dolloff (USFS, Southern Research Station)
External Partners: 
National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (funding agency)