Engaging a Crowd-Sourced eDNA Database to Enhance DoD-Relevant Conservation Goals
Michael Schwartz | USDA / U.S. Forest Service National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation
This project intends to develop a framework by which the Department of Defense (DoD) can benefit from a partnership in the eDNAtlas, a large-scale, crowd-sourced inter-agency database of paired environmental DNA (eDNA) data and fine-scale hydrological data for the western United States. The eDNAtlas will provide DoD and potential state, federal, and tribal partners with key information about the distribution of species that are rare, cryptic, or otherwise difficult to sample or detect, or for which traditional surveys over broad geographic scales are not cost-efficient or feasible. This project will focus of aquatic and riparian species pertinent to DoD in the southwestern United States, particularly on species that are sensitive to development and environmental change, that DoD has identified as pertinent (based on past investments), aquatic invasive species that have potential to be costly to base management, and on species with negative population trends that may result in future federal protections and regulatory encroachment on DoD lands. It will provide standardized protocols and assays to reliably and cost-effectively assess the presence of these species wherever they occur on DoD lands.
This project is based on three distinct technologies. First, the research team will use a revolutionary advance in detecting aquatic species through environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling. Environmental DNA is DNA shed by organisms and collected by filtering water. The research team at the National Genomics Center for Wildlife and Fish Conservation (NGC) has pioneered developments in this field and are one of the first to apply eDNA sampling at broader scales to describe a species distribution (McKelvey et al. 2016 and ongoing 10,000 sample rangewide eDNA sampling effort for endangered bull trout: https://www.fs.fed.us/rm/boise/AWAE/projects/BullTrout_eDNA.html). Using the protocol developed that was field-tested by hundreds of resource agency partners (Carim et al. 2016), a one-person crew can collect an eDNA sample in under 15 minutes making a large scale survey possible. The bull trout project is one of over 60 projects in the NGC on over 35 different species that use single species detection methods. The second technology being used is the multispecies metabarcoding approach (MORE-HTS), which is in development and uses high throughput sequencing to simultaneously (and cost-effectively) multiplex a large number of published single species markers. Finally, the third technology is the database management and web-portal which is the basis of the eDNAtlas and provides a geographic context for any results.
This project benefits DoD efforts to protect assets required for DoD mission needs, maintain or improve capabilities to train and test, ensure safe and healthy installations, or mitigate potential impacts to DoD natural and built infrastructure as required to meet DoD policy and statutory requirements as reflected in DoDD 3200.15, Sustaining Access to the Live Training and Test Domain, DoDD 4715.1E Environment, Safety, and Occupational Health (ESOH), and other guidance.
Specific technical benefits include the following:
Data from this work will go into the eDNAtlas and will be used to develop scientifically-defensible species distribution models (currently and under various future environmental scenarios) to quantify the role of installation-specific management on the conservation and management of the targeted species at local, regional, and national scales. Armed with these species distribution models and metadata from the eDNAtlas, identification and ranking of critical resource conservation and management areas will be possible. This will also allow bases to get ahead of early aquatic invasive species invasions by having early detections and provide proactive information for managing threatened species that require regulation. The results will be made public where appropriate via the eDNAtlas, disseminated through seminars and webinars, and published in leading peer review outlets.