eDNA helps researchers track and identify endangered and at-risk species

In an attempt to gain greater insights into five at-risk species, researchers from the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS) are working with the U.S. Department of Defense, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL), and the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois to study endangered and threatened species in a new way.

This collaboration is testing the use of environmental DNA, or eDNA, to assess the status and distribution of the Calcasieu Painted crayfish, Kitsatchie Painted crayfish, Texas Pigtoe mussel, Louisiana Pinesnake, and the Alligator snapping turtle in Fort Polk, Louisiana.

“These are rare, hard to find species, and we are comparing the utility of conventional sampling and eDNA,” said, Mark Davis, a conservation biologist at INHS. “This work is important because eDNA might be faster, more efficient, and more cost effective than conventional sampling; now we will find out if it really is.”

Read about this eDNA project.

2016 IDT Sustainability Award Winners

Meet Dr Matthew Niemiller, Associate Ecologist at the Illinois Natural History Survey (INHS), Prairie Research Institute, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He and his team earned top honors in IDT’s 2016 Sustainability Award contest and will receive $14,000 in IDT product credit.

His project, titled, “Is Out of Sight Really Out of Mind? Environmental DNA Detection and Monitoring of Rare Groundwater Fauna,” explores the amount and location of groundwater species, particularly those that are small and that live in habitats and ecosystems extremely difficult to survey and study.

Joining Dr Niemiller on the team are molecular ecologists and geneticists Dr Mark Davis (INHS), and Dr Megan L. Porter (University of Hawaii); cave biologists and subterranean biosurvey experts Dr Steven J. Taylor (INHS), Michael E. Slay (The Nature Conservancy), and Dr Kirk S. Zigler (University of the South).

Find out more about the award.

eDNA “soup of the day”: Wisconsin lake water with rusty crayfish

Rusty Crayfish

Every plant and animal has a unique genetic composition, which makes a lake like a bowl of DNA soup—every spoonful contains the combined DNA of the lake’s inhabitants. Scientists have recently begun using this environmental DNA, or eDNA, to identify the presence of organisms like amphibians and fish. Using eDNA to monitor hard-to-detect species can provide early warnings of invasion. ACES aquatic ecologist Eric Larson in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences and his colleagues analyzed eDNA to successfully detect the presence of the highly invasive rusty crayfish in a dozen Wisconsin lakes.

Read the entire story here.

Study: Head shape and genetics augment understanding of rattlesnake species

Western  Rattlesnake. Photo by Bryan Safratowich.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Using head shape and genetic analyses, new research challenges the formerly designated subspecies within the western rattlesnake species. These findings have important implications for ecological conservation efforts across the United States and could provide the basis for new species designations.

Read the full story from the U of I News Bureau here.