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From expensive to efficient: eDNAtlas improves data management

Posted date: August 17, 2018

New eDNA database and map products help users see aquatic biota in new ways

Imagine that you could look online at interactive maps showing precisely where any species of fish, amphibian, or mussel occurs throughout the U.S. in streams, lakes, and ponds - all in one comprehensive location. The newly-released eDNAtlas is turning this idea into an open-access online reality. 

eDNAtlas Data mapper demonstrating eDNAtlas database
eDNAtlas Data mapper
The eDNAtlas website and dynamic database tools allow the public, managers, and researchers to access results from samples of environmental DNA (eDNA), which is genetic material released by organisms into the environment, and that is analyzed to determine local species occurrence. Analyzing eDNA samples in a lab allows researchers to reliably determine where target species are found and overcomes previous limitations of traditional sampling techniques. One person can easily and rapidly sample eDNA from many sites, making the technique incredibly efficient and useful in crowd-sourcing and citizen science campaigns that complement work by professional biologists to enable biodiversity monitoring and inventorying at unprecedented spatial extents. 

Powering the eDNAtlas initially is a database of 8,000 samples that were collected in recent years through multi-agency partnerships with the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation. With many agencies and organizations that work on aquatics and fisheries issues rapidly adopting the use of eDNA sampling, thousands of new locations are being sampled each year and will be added to future database updates at the eDNAtlas website. By providing and maintaining a comprehensive database, the project aims to minimize redundancy of effort among agencies and facilitate more data sharing, which ultimately saves time and money. 

The eDNAtlas website posts sample results only after stringent quality assurance procedures are met and permissions are obtained from data contributors. Results can be downloaded from the website for dozens of species in different portions of the U.S. through a dynamic ArcGIS online mapping tool, which provides information in geospatial file formats with full sets of complementary metadata. Also available at the website is extensive information about field data collection protocols, answers to frequently asked questions, who to contact if you are interested in collecting eDNA samples, information about the science underpinning the technique, and a national sampling grid that enables the design of efficient new surveys. 

Rocky Mountain Research Station researchers collect environmental DNA samples to identify fish and other species of interest in glaciated valleys, which are considered highly vulnerable to rising stream temperatures and other stressors (Photo D. Issac).
Dan Isaak collecting environmental DNA samples
“The ‘live’ nature of the eDNAtlas allows it to continually grow as we get more samples and contributions from other organizations and citizen scientists,” said Dan Isaak, a Research Fish Biologist and project co-lead from the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station. “People care about streams, like their favorite fishing hole. This is an opportunity for them to learn more about those streams while helping us build this incredible product. Fisheries biologists, aquatic ecologists, and hydrologists can all benefit from using and contributing data. It is pretty exciting to see how fast the database has grown in just the last few years because the possibilities and efficiencies grow exponentially with the size of the database.” 

According to Mike Young, a Research Fisheries Biologist and project co-lead from the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, the eDNAtlas “isn’t just a database for sharing recent results. It’s also an archive of samples that can be revisited to ask questions about other species that might be present at any location. And as sampling continues across the country, it is becoming an invaluable repository of biodiversity information we can use to evaluate the status of species now and in the future.”

The eDNAtlas project is led by the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station and the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation, with grant funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Bring Back the Natives program. 


View more on the eDNAtlas here:


The Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) is one of seven units within the U.S. Forest Service Research and Development. RMRS maintains 14 field laboratories throughout a 12-state territory encompassing parts of the Great Basin, Southwest, Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains. RMRS also administers and conducts research on 14 experimental forests, ranges and watersheds and maintains long-term research databases for these areas. While anchored in the geography of the West our research is global in scale. To find out more about the RMRS go to You can also follow us on Twitter at




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Jennifer Hayes
Public Affairs Specialist