An illustration showing the biodiversity of an aquatic ecosystem that is encompassed in the transient traces of environmental DNA left behind by stream inhabitants. Illustration by Laura Hauck.
Effective management of aquatic ecosystems relies on accurate information about species diversity and abundance. But, the stream surveys necessary to gather critical information on riparian biodiversity are usually time-consuming and costly.
Along with their colleagues, station scientists Brooke Penaluna and Richard Cronn are working to develop a new method to survey aquatic biodiversity: multi-species environmental DNA (eDNA). eDNA can be found in the air, water, and soil of a riparian area—anywhere organisms shed their cells while 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—from single-cell pathogens to large animals—that rely on that stream.
The results of initial studies demonstrated that eDNA is a powerful new tool that, with a single water sample, can detect a host of stream and riparian species—from pathogens to fish to terrestrial animals. Penaluna, Cronn, and their colleagues 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. eDNA assessments 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.