Amphibian Monitoring Using Environmental DNA
We are partnering with the University of Alberta (U of A) to develop a new approach for surveying amphibians using environmental DNA (eDNA). eDNA refers to the DNA that organisms leave behind or shed as they pass through the environment. Most people are aware that this is possible with tissue such as hair, but the next step is collecting a DNA signature from material such as mucus, feces, urine or sloughed skin that is naturally suspended in water. This would allow us to detect amphibian presence by simply taking a water sample and having it analyzed in a genetics laboratory. One of our first steps was to test our lab techniques to identify the genetic signature for all 10 amphibian species that occur in Alberta. We then tested water samples collected from natural ponds for the eDNA of target amphibian species. We started the lab work in 2013 with a graduate student at the U of A. We have been able to successfully amplify and sequence eDNA for wood frog. It has been less consistent for other target amphibian species. Although there are some details to be resolved, our initial findings support the theory that amphibian DNA in the environment can be used as a proxy for directly observing a target species once robust sample collection and assay protocols are established.
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada – Industrial Postgraduate Scholarships Program, Shell Canada Energy, University of Alberta – Brandon Booker (M.Sc. candidate), David Coltman, Corey Davis and Cynthia Paszkowski
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