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The aquatic eDNAtlas project

Date: August 18, 2020

The Aquatic eDNAtlas Project supports effective conservation and management of freshwater biota during an era of rapid climate change, nonnative species invasions, and habitat loss.

A scientist crouches near a stream, holding a funnel in the water that is connected to a pump and bucket with tubing.
Dan Isaak collects a sample for eDNA analysis.
Aquatic environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling is the collection of DNA released by a target species into streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, or wetlands. The simplicity and expedience of sample collection coupled with the potential for accurate estimates of species presence has led to widespread interest in this technique. At the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation (NGC), scientists have been at the forefront of investigating and applying eDNA sampling for aquatic species.

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 through multiagency partnerships with NGC. Sampling results are compiled into a database by scientists and technicians at the Rocky Mountain Research Station Boise Aquatic Sciences Lab and made available to the community. 

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 project supports effective conservation and management of freshwater biota during an era of rapid climate change, nonnative species invasions, and habitat loss, as well as widespread efforts to maintain, restore, and expand the distributions of at-risk species, which requires precise information about species distributions across broad areas to guide decision-making.

The eDNAtlas project is expanding to include additional species and aquatic habitats - rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, wetlands, and springs - in the U.S. that collaborating partners are interested in sampling.

Key Activities

  • As of July 2020, the Aquatic eDNAtlas now hosts results for more than 20,000 species determinations from over 12,000 samples, with thousands of additional samples currently being processed at the lab for posting to the website in future updates.
  • The database is updated biannually and currently contains occurrence records for 53 species, with eDNA markers under development for another 50 species to facilitate future survey efforts.
  • If a sample has not been taken in an area of interest, organizations can plan their own trip to the field for sample collection for a desired species. Equipment and protocols for field collection are provided.


Aquatic eDNAtlas Web Page

Aquatic eDNAtlas western Sampling Grid ArcGIS Online Map

Aquatic eDNAtlas eastern Sampling Grid ArcGIS Online Map

Aquatic eDNAtlas Results ArcGIS Online Map for the western US

Aquatic eDNAtlas Results ArcGIS Online Map for the eastern US

Species occurrence data from the aquatic eDNAtlas database

Webinar - The Aquatic eDNAtlas: A next-generation database for species assessment and monitoring

Webinar -  Putting aquatic species on the map: The eDNAtlas and Archive for aquatic taxa in Western North America

Comprehensive list of the rapidly expanding literature on aquatic eDNA science and applications

Featured Publications

Wilcox, Taylor ; McKelvey, Kevin S. ; Young, Michael K. ; Engkjer, Cory L. ; Lance, Richard F. ; Lahr, Andrew ; Eby, Lisa A. ; Schwartz, Michael K. , 2020
Carim, Kellie ; Wilcox, T. ; Young, Michael K. ; McKelvey, Kevin S. ; Schwartz, Michael K. , 2015

Forest Service Partners: 
Gwynne Chandler
Kellie Carim
Caleb Dysthe
Tommy Franklin
Samuel Greaves
Dona Horan
Sharon Parkes-Payne
Kristie Pilgrim
Taylor Wilcox
Sherry Wollrab
External Partners: 
Funding to develop the eDNAtlas database was provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Bring Back the Natives Program.