What is environmental DNA?
The challenge of monitoring biodiversity
There is an enormous diversity of life on earth. It is estimated that approximately 8.7 million species live on this planet; however, 86% of species on land and 91% of species in the ocean still await discovery.
Inventorying the world around us can be challenging and costly. Traditional methods for monitoring biodiversity, such as camera traps or aerial surveys, are labor-intensive and often costly.
With threats to biodiversity mounting, it is now more important than ever to monitor ecological systems quickly and efficiently, to help us protect and conserve the planet for nature and people.
The power of environmental DNA
If you have watched a true crime documentary, you may have realized that DNA is all around us. From a strand of hair to a fingerprint, we frequently leave traces of our genetic signature in our surroundings.
Animals also naturally shed DNA through their feces, skin, and hair as they move throughout their environment. By sampling soil, water, snow, or even air, we can access this environmental DNA (or eDNA).
An eDNA sample carries the genetic code of tens, maybe hundreds, of animals and can provide us with all kinds of information about the species living in an ecosystem.
A single sample containing eDNA can be used to detect endangered species, study the impacts of climate change, alert us to invisible threats such as pathogens, and assess the overall health of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems.
Using eDNA to monitor species within their habitat
WWF utilizes eDNA technology in multiple forms of biodiversity and species monitoring. WWF uses eDNA techniques to study the ecology and biodiversity of a geographic area by determining the species living in a given habitat, via eDNA traces present. WWF also employs eDNA tools to analyze the DNA of individual animals when studying populations of a single species.