New workshop explores the real-world applications of eDNA

Environmental DNA is becoming a mainstay for non-invasive, reliable, and cost-effective surveys of at-risk and invasive species, pathogen detection, and biodiversity assessment.

The Queen’s University Biological Station (QUBS) is offering a four-day Environmental DNA Workshop this summer that will benefit those interested in eDNA research or understanding and evaluating research proposals. It will be especially for those interested in natural resource management and monitoring applications. The workshop includes lectures, field and lab demonstrations, and hands-on training in analysis and interpretation of data, but does not require detailed knowledge of genetics or molecular biology.

Environmental DNA research is a particular skillset that is becoming more and more in-demand for government, as well as private sector workers in environmental science, and the Faculty of Arts and Science of Queen’s University will be offering a certification for the workshop training.

“eDNA approaches rely on the simple observation that organisms leave traces of their DNA in the environment though feces, skin secretions among other sources, making it possible to detect their presence without capture or even direct observation,” says Baillie Family Chair in Conservation Biology Stephen Lougheed (Biology, Environmental Studies), an instructor in the workshop along with Yuxiang Wang (associate professor of Biology and Environmental Studies) and Orianne Tournayre (postdoctoral fellow, Biology). “Robust, interpretable eDNA data depend on rigorous field sampling and lab techniques to avoid false detections and draw spurious conclusions on for example the presence of rare, at-risk species or invasive species that might be at the earliest stages of invasion.”

Photo by Allen Tian.

Photo by Allen Tian.

The workshop offers an overview on sources and fates of eDNA in the environment, sampling methods for water, soil and feces, and lab methods for single species (quantitative PCR) and multi-species (metabarcoding) detections, with emphasis on sampling design, basic bioinformatics, and data analysis. The workshop will also explore the benefits and limitations of these different approaches.

Provided as part of the workshop will be a manual with field and lab protocols, links to key web resources, and useful literature citations.

In addition to offering this workshop, at QUBS, Drs. Lougheed, Wang and Tournayre and others are working with the River Institute (Cornwall) to incorporate eDNA methods into their fish surveys along the St. Lawrence River from Kingston through western Quebec. The pilot work was funded by a SSHRC New Frontiers in Research Fund – Exploration and by Dr. Lougheed’s NSERC Discovery grant.

To learn more about the workshop, visit the website.