Environmental DNA (eDNA) is an emerging technique that can increase our ability to detect and quantify biodiversity, by overcoming some of the challenges of labor-intensive traditional surveys.
Despite the ecological and conservation significance of the questions that can potentially be addressed using eDNA, many challenges and limitations exist. eDNA does not always work, and even when it does ‘work’, the results are not always what are needed.
In a study published in Biodiversity and Conservation, researchers from Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) review and synthesize eDNA studies published to date to highlight the opportunities and limitations of utilizing eDNA in ecology and conservation.
The researchers searched for peer-reviewed journal papers in the Web of Science using the keywords ‘environmental DNA’ and ‘eDNA’, and restricted the review to studies involving macro-organisms.
According to the researchers, the technique has often been used without a careful evaluation of the technical challenges and complexities involved, and a determination made that eDNA is the appropriate method for the species or environment of interest.
The reseearchers emphasize, in particular, that it is challenging to distinguish between detection of eDNA and detection of a species, or to quantify organismal abundance and biomass using eDNA, without a clear understanding of the challenges and limitations of the technique.
“Failure to address these problems may confound the interpretation of eDNA data”, said Kingsly C. Beng, a Ph.D candidate of XTBG.
Kingsly C. Beng
Center for Integrative Conservation, Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Menglun, Mengla, Yunnan 666303, China