What is Environmental DNA (eDNA) and How Does It Help Ecology?

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What is Environmental DNA (eDNA) and How Does It Help Ecology?

At Greenlight Environmental Consultancy, our Ecology and Protected Species Surveys consist of going into the environment and looking for signs and species within a site. Although this is effective when it comes to development planning applications and legislation, it is slightly more challenging when trying to get the most accurate data for what species are living where and their population.

However, more recently there has been a scientific breakthrough and advancement which could revolutionise the way in which we monitor wildlife – Environmental DNA.

All You Need to Know About Environmental DNA (eDNA)

What is Environmental DNA (eDNA)?

Environmental DNA (eDNA) refers to the DNA that is released from an organism and left behind in their habitat. Instead of taking a DNA sample directly from the species to learn more about them, this science means we can take these small particles of DNA instead for the same purpose.

Some of the most common sources of eDNA include faeces, shed skin, hair, mucous, and carcasses and these can be found in soil, water or snow. At the moment, it is generally used to detect Great Crested Newts and Bat species identification, but there is hope for it to expand its capabilities to identify more species, including aquatic organisms.

Limitations of Current Ecology Surveys

Ecology surveys are used in order to protect our wildlife from developmental changes and to keep an eye on fluctuating populations. These numbers are extremely difficult to monitor with tradition visual observations when the species are rapidly declining, they exist in low densities, or recovering from life-threatening impacts.

Luckily, with eDNA, it seems that some of these limitations and challenges can be overcome, and we will soon be able to retrieve more accurate data directly from the field.

How Environmental DNA (eDNA) Can Help

To start with, eDNA is a much more cost-effective method of surveying biodiversity. Although visual observation is still key to the methodology, by taking samples and identifying opportunities for eDNA while surveying, there is more of a chance of finding results.

Secondly, environmental DNA sampling is a non-invasive technique to monitor species across the country. There is little risk of disturbance to both their habitat and to the species itself, and all testing occurs off-site so there is no further invasion taking place.

Finally, eDNA gives us the ability to broaden the ecology analysis spectrum to include more protected species. As mentioned above, it is currently used for great crested newts, however this science could potentially be extended to all widespread native amphibians. As well as this, there is the possibility of new methods being introduced to detect aquatic mammals, fish species, invertebrates and non-native species.

Ecological Surveys from Greenlight Environmental Consultancy

With the potential to expand as a wildlife monitoring tool across all terrains, this is an exciting development for the ecological world. Not only does it help to discover hidden biodiversity, but it helps to analyse multiple different traits of found species.

In the meantime, environmental DNA is a great partner to traditional surveying and can be used alongside other visual observation methods to create a more accurate picture. At Greenlight, we are able to conduct a variety of surveys to suit your project requirements. Take a look round our website today or get in touch with us directly to find out more about what we can do for you.