It can be difficult to detect animals in remote, data-poor environments like much of northern Australia where many logistical challenges and safety hazards also hamper monitoring. Conventional techniques such as trapping and visual counting are resource intensive and logistically challenging, and many target species are rare or shy, so survey intensity is very high. To better support planning, management and impact assessments we need to better monitor the presence or absence of animals such as threatened species, pest species and species of high cultural value.
Animals leave DNA traces of their presence in hair, skin, urine, faeces, sperm and eggs that are shed into their surrounding environment. This DNA can be found in the environment for a short time even after visible traces have disappeared, and is called eDNA. Early studies have demonstrated that eDNA from terrestrial animals can be detected in soil or in waterbodies where they drink or bathe. More research is required to determine which terrestrial species can be readily detected, to develop species-specific probes, to identify practical sampling and analytic methods and to know how to appropriately interpret results.
This project is investigating the use of eDNA to detect a key terrestrial animal species in the Top End. The approach is being trialled on the endangered Gouldian Finch with field validation using water samples from sites where the abundance of finches is closely monitored. After a successful trial for the Gouldian Finch, stage two of the project will compare eDNA test performance against existing survey methods under a major government program assessing biodiversity values in remote, data-poor regions. This will allow both validation and an assessment of cost-effectiveness and potential complementarity.
This project is:
Day K, Campbell H, Fisher A, Gibb K, Hill B, Rose A & Jarman SN. (2019). Development and validation of an environmental DNA test for the endangered Gouldian finch. Endangered Species Research 40:171-182. https://doi.org/10.3354/esr00987
This project is being led by Professor Karen Gibb from Charles Darwin University and Dr Alaric Fisher from the Northern Territory Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
Professor Gibb and Dr Fisher are being assisted by researchers from Charles Darwin University and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.