Environmental DNA (eDNA) monitoring represents a revolutionary new survey method, that takes advantage of the genetic material (DNA) that aquatic animals shed into the environment (e.g. from skin particles, faeces and urine). Researchers can capture this DNA and use it to detect species presence and estimate their relative abundance. Waterways are particularly suitable for eDNA sampling as the DNA remains suspended in the water column over time and is carried along with the flow.

There is great potential for this method to detect species that are difficult and time-consuming to find, such as rare, cryptic species (e.g. galaxiids, crayfish and freshwater mussels) in remote areas. eDNA will also increase the ability to identify and respond to outbreaks of pest species. The field of eDNA species detection is still new, and ARI is helping to develop the technique for Victorian species and conditions.

ARI has equipment that provides us with the capacity to conduct eDNA detection and monitoring of freshwater species. Water samples are taken at study sites using a specialised eDNA filtration backpack and can be processed on site (within 1 hour) using a portable qPCR machine to identify what species are present. The method can dramatically improve the accuracy and efficiency of aquatic surveys. ARI has been trialling the equipment to conduct an eDNA survey to detect the presence of harmful exotic species in two wetland lakes that have been highlighted as potential translocation sites for the threatened Yarra Pygmy Perch.

Specialised backpack for sampling eDNA from water

Sampling for eDNA

Robust methods and procedures are being developed within ARI, which will ultimately enable the inclusion of eDNA sampling across a range of relevant monitoring programs within Victoria. This survey tool is anticipated to be a major contributor to how high-quality ecological data is collected to inform waterway and freshwater species management.

For more information contact: james.shelley@delwp.vic.gov.au

Page last updated: 08/12/21