Environmental DNA Surveys: A practical complement to traditional sampling

Professor Ryan Kelly

Congratulations to Professor Ryan Kelly and co-authors on their recent paper published in Biological Conservation titled “Environmental DNA provides quantitative estimates of a threatened salmon species.” Surveys are often complex, expensive, and labor-intenstive, especially when target species are rare or elusive as is the case for many species of
conservation concern. Most surveys also involve the physical capture or disturbance of species, which can potentially harm sampled individuals and is particularly undesirable for species of conservation. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is an increasingly common tool for ecological sampling that examines minute traces of a species left in the environment, for example from cells or waste, and can be used to detect and count target species. The authors found that eDNA surveys are a practical complement to traditional sampling, and can outperform aspects of traditional seine sampling. However, eDNA cannot at present replace the many data streams derived from physical sampling. Therefore, optimizing eDNA sampling in conjunction with traditional sampling holds the promise of reducing uncertainty of abundance estimates while reducing sampling costs and handling impacts on a threatened species.