Tag Archives: eDNA

The Stream Microbiome: An Ecosystem’s Health Report Card

Image Credit: mstk east, CC BY 2.0, Image Cropped

Thanks to DNA sequencing, there is no escape from the reality that every organism is an ecosystem. I like to think of myself as an individual human organism but actually, I am a holobiont, playing host to thousands of other species. Back in college, my body was an ecosystem in distress. A diet of coffee, beer, and bagels coupled with a steady dip of stress led to a series of health issues and an eventual diagnosis of ‘dysbiosis’. Dysbiosis is a term that describes a loss of microbial biodiversity or departure from a balanced ecology.

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Environmental DNA Provides Lessons On Life

Using eDNA, we can figure out where shy animals like this platypus live without disturbing them (Image credit: Amber Noseda, Great Ocean Photography, CC BY 2.0)

As an undergraduate student, more than twenty years ago, discussions of species often referenced ‘lumpers’ and ‘splitters’. Some biologists were more likely to ‘lump’ all variation within a single species while others attributed variation to distinct subspecies, and ‘split’ organisms as such. Back then, we talked about biomes such as forests and grasslands but the term ‘microbiome’ barely existed. Now, even the concept of an organism is questioned as some scientists argue that the individual cannot be separated from the microbiome it hosts. Thanks to advances in molecular biology, every organism is now an ecosystem.

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Using eDNA to Avoid Being Eaten on the Job

Image Credit: pxfuel, CC0 1.0, Image Cropped

Monitoring the silver carp invasion in Africa: a case study using environmental DNA (eDNA) in dangerous watersheds (2020) Crookes et al., NeoBiota, http://doi.org/10.3897/neobiota.56.47475

The Crux

One thing the last two months have taught us all is that testing for a problem is crucial. The earlier you catch a problem, the more of a chance you have to stop that problem spreading. Coronavirus is one example, invasive species is another. Detecting an invader arriving early on means you can potentially remove it before it has become properly established, saving millions of dollars down the line.

But often testing isn’t practical. Take freshwater environments. Sometimes a river may be hard to get to. Sometimes it may be infested with crocodiles and hippos. Makes regular testing methods like electrofishing or gillnetting a bit tricky.

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Using eDNA to Monitor Fish Dispersal

Environmental DNA is a hot topic in biomonitoring. But what is it exactly, and how can it be used to monitor the dispersal of a reintroduced fish species? (Image credit: Gunnar Jacobs, CC BY-SA 2.0, Image Cropped).

Guest post by Christopher Hempel

Using environmental DNA to monitor the reintroduction success of the Rhine sculpin (Cottus rhenanus) in a restored stream (2019) Hempel et al., PeerJ, https://peerj.com/preprints/27574/

The Crux

The term “environmental DNA (eDNA)” is currently booming in molecular ecology. But what exactly is this technological marvel? Essentially, eDNA comprises all DNA released by organisms into their environment, and originates from mucus, scales, faeces, epidermal cells, saliva, urine, hair, feathers – basically anything an organism might get rid of during its life. The eDNA can be collected from the environment, extracted, and analyzed to detect species using molecular approaches. As this is a very sensitive and non-invasive approach, it is a very hot topic for biomonitoring.

eDNA can be collected from any animal (in theory), but aquatic organisms in particular have been shown to be good target individuals (as eDNA is easiest to handle in water samples). Consequently, there are many studies using eDNA to monitor the activity of fish, reaching from the presence of invasive species to the effects of aquaculture. Here, we applied eDNA analysis to monitor a reintroduced fish species, the Rhine sculpin. The sculpin’s poor swimming ability make it useful as a bioindicator of the passability of streams and rivers. We wanted to investigate the potential of using eDNA to monitor the dispersal of the species in a remediated stream on a fine spatial and temporal scale.

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