Earth Day 2020: Monitoring Biodiversity for Climate Action

Post provided by Chloe Robinson

The demands of a growing human population are putting increasing pressure on the Earth’s natural systems and services. Dubbed the ‘Anthropocene’, we are currently living in a period where human actions are directly altering many earth processes, including atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic and biospheric processes. Climatic change and the resulting consequences, including rising temperatures, changing precipitation (i.e. rainfall, snow etc) and increase in frequency of storm events, represent the biggest challenge to our future and the life-support ecosystems that make our world habitable.

Artist’s interpretation of global climate change. Photo credit: Pete Linforth/Pixabay.

In 1970, Earth Day was launched as a modern environmental movement and a unified response to an environment in crisis. Earth Day has provided a platform for action, resulting in the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), The Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts in the US and more globally. This year, 22 April marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and the number one environmental crisis theme which needs immediate attention is ‘Climate Action’. Many of our ecosystems on earth are degrading at an alarming pace and we are currently experiencing a species loss at a rate of tens or hundreds of times faster than in the past. 

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Anacapa Toolkit: Automating the Cataloguing of Biodiversity

Post provided by Emily Curd

Imagine that you want to catalogue all of the biodiversity (all of the living organisms) from a particular location; how many trained experts would that require? How many person hours would it take to collect and identify all of the rare, well-disguised, and microscopic organisms? How many of these organisms would have to be removed from the environment and taken back to a lab for taxonomic analysis.

With eDNA, you can survey the presence of this gorgeous opalescent nudibranch without capturing or even touching it.
©Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County — Amanda Bemis & Brittany Cumming

Although there is no substitute for human expertise, we have begun using the traces of DNA that organisms leave behind (e.g. excretions, skin and hair cells) in the environment to catalogue biodiversity. These traces of DNA, referred to as environmental DNA, can persist in the environment for minutes or can persist for centuries depending on where they end up. This field of environmental DNA (eDNA) is rapidly becoming an effective tool to complement surveys of biodiversity, both past and present.

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A Celebration of World Rivers Day

Post provided by Alfred Burian, Antonia Ford and Quentin Mauvisseau

Celebrating our river ecosystems world-wide on the 22nd of September.

Celebrating our river ecosystems world-wide on the 22nd of September. ©Bob Wick, BLM.

It’s the 22nd of September and that means it’s this year’s UN World Rivers Day! In over 60 countries around the globe events are going on today to bring attention to the many values of our waterways. And we, the Aquatic Ecology Special Interest Group of the BES, are joining in with the celebrations! We’re highlighting recent methodological advancements that will help us to manage and conserve our rivers in the future. So let’s get started…

Multiple Stressors and Molecular Tools

Today, human activities across the world are impacting rivers to varying degrees. As scientists, we frequently see the interaction of multiple different stressors such as flow regulations, pollution or climate change affecting our rivers. The combined impact of stressors like these may be worse than any of their individual impacts. To understand and manage the effect of them, we need cost-effective and reliable analytical tools that can capture site-specific and ecosystem-wide effects.

Recent methodological advances that will help us to achieve these goals often rely on the application of new or improved molecular tools. Emerging techniques include environmental DNA (eDNA) based applications to monitor endangered and invasive species as well as stable isotope ecology, which provides us with new insights into animal diets and energy flows through aquatic food webs. We’d like to take the opportunity to introduce some of the novel developments in both of these exciting fields. Continue reading

Issue 10.9: Phenotypes, Species Interactions, Biodiversity and More

The September issue of Methods is now online!

We’ve got another brilliant issue of Methods in Ecology and Evolution out today. In another bumper 250 page offering, you’ll find articles on identifying waterbird hotspots, identity metrics, capture-recapture methods (and the alternative close-kin mark-recpature) and way more.

Don’t have a subscription to the journal? No need to worry – this month’s issue has TEN articles that are free to access for absolutely anyone. You can find out about all 10 below.

Keep reading for a little more information on the September issue of Methods in Ecology and Evolution. Continue reading

New eDNA Programme Makes Conservation Research Faster and More Efficient

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Anacapa Toolkit: An environmental DNA toolkit for processing multilocus metabarcode datasets‘ taken from UCLA.

It’s estimated that a person sheds between 30,000 to 40,000 skin cells per day. These cells and their associated DNA leave genetic traces of ourselves in showers, dust — pretty much everywhere we go.

Other organisms shed cells, too, leaving traces throughout their habitats. This leftover genetic material is known as environmental DNA, or eDNA. Research using eDNA began about a decade ago, but was largely limited to a small cadre of biologists who were also experts in computers and big data. However, a new tool from UCLA could be about to make the field accessible and useful to many more scientists.

A team of UCLA researchers recently launched the Anacapa Toolkit — open-source software that makes eDNA research easier, allowing researchers to detect a broad range of species quickly and producing sortable results that are simple to understand. Continue reading

The Self-Preserving eDNA Filter: How It Works and Why You Should Use It

Researchers at Washington State University and Smith-Root recently invented an environmental DNA (eDNA) filter housing that automatically preserves captured eDNA by desiccation. This eliminates the need for filter handling in the field and/or liquid DNA preservatives. The new material is also biodegradable, helping to reduce long-lasting plastic waste associated with eDNA sampling.

This video explains their new innovation in the field of eDNA sampling technology:

To find out more about the self-preserving eDNA filter, read the full, Open Access Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘A self‐preserving, partially biodegradable eDNA filter
(No Subscription Required).

If you’re using interesting new field techniques like this, why not submit a Practical Tools manuscript about them? You can find out more about Practical Tools manuscripts here.

Making a Self-Preserving eDNA Filter

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘A self‐preserving, partially biodegradable eDNA filter‘ taken from the Smith-Root.

A new self-preserving filter housing automatically preserves eDNA, while reducing the risk of contamination, and creating less plastic waste.

Researcher collecting an eDNA sample using the self-preserving filter housing.

In 2015 the inventor of the Keurig disposable coffee cartridge (K-Cups) told reporters that sometimes he regrets ever inventing the technology. The single-use design simply produces too much non-recyclable trash. Well, that very same problem is what ultimately led to the creation of a self-preserving filter for environmental DNA (eDNA); a recently reported Practical Tool in Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

eDNA scientists rely on single-use sampling equipment because eDNA surveys are highly sensitive to potential contamination. “We started out simply looking for biodegradable plastics that could be molded into a filter housing, with the objective of reducing plastic waste.” says Dr. Austen Thomas who led the team of researchers and engineers who invented the Smith-Root eDNA Sampler. “That’s when we realized that some of the biodegradable compounds function by being highly hydrophilic.” Continue reading

Using the Smith-Root ANDe System for Wildlife Conservation

POST PROVIDED BY TRACIE SEIMON, PHD

The ANDe system can help researchers tell whether endangered species are present.

The ANDe system can help researchers tell whether endangered species are present.

In recent years, there have been a lot of studies on the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) for species detection and monitoring. This method takes advantage of the fact that organisms shed DNA into the environment in the form of urine, feces, or cells from tissue such as skin. As this DNA stays in the environment, we can use molecular techniques to search for traces of it. By doing this, we can determine if a species lives in a particular place.

At the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), we’re integrating and using the ANDe system in combination with ultra-portable qPCR (quantitative polymerase chain reaction) and DNA extraction technologies developed by Biomeme Inc. for eDNA capture and species detection of endangered turtles, and other aquatic organisms. This helps us to better monitor species within our global conservation programs. Continue reading