Environmental deoxyribonucleic acid, also known as environmental DNA or EDNA, is a method of acquiring the distribution patterns and population sizes for species within an ecological community by using forensic like evidence, such as hair, fecal matter or feathers.. Other methods, like capturing and photographing are either more costly or less efficient at obtaining species’ data than EDNA is. Using EDNA to sample environmental is also comparatively less invasive, and therefore does harm to the ecological systems being measured. Anthropogenic disturbances continue to plague ecosystems the world over, affecting organisms and the environment that they inhabit. Human activities like ocean acidification, ocean pollution and have measurably expedited the rate at which species die out, thereupon making biodiversity loss an issue of central concern abroad.

tiny frog on forest woods floor
tiny frog in vast woods

Advantages of EDNA in Conservation

Without a way to measure biodiversity, we can’t calculate the rate at which its lost. Measuring biodiversity is not as simple as measuring force or distance; biological diversity can be understood in a multitude of ways. For example, some researchers use species richness -the total number of different species – to quantify biodiversity. Others may count the number of individual organisms of each species in an area. What’s important is that the community being sampled gives us basic information about occurrence, distribution and abundance of the observed species. The EDNA technique aims to avoid putting stress on the ecosystem involved and therefore represents a minimally invasive, if not, non-invasive way to measure species and ecosystems. Conservationists, then, can use this sampling technique without worsening species loss or environmental degradation.

Accuracy, Limitations and Cost Efficiency For Assessing Biodiversity

Sampling surveys, if carried out properly, may improve conservation efforts. Conservation is the effort to protect biodiversity and ecosystem diversity. Conservation therefore involves seeks to limit anthropogenic disturbances to various types of naturally occurring ecosystems. Sampling builds our knowledge of species and how they are distributed which informs conservation project and environmental protection policy. Ecological sampling surveys are our best bet for determining whether a species is at risk of endangerment or extinction. Environmental DNA can carry information about the life of the organism involved, like other creatures it may interact with or what foods may be part of its diet. This may not always be possible by photographing species. While it may be possible by capturing and tagging animals, it unfortunately presents other limitations. Some species are simply difficult to detect. This may be because the species itself may be incredibly small, or its populations sizes are small. It could also be because the species is only detectable during a certain time of year. Sampling with EDNA tells researchers if invasive species are present, and what their population sizes are. Invasive species can cause competition for resources or make environmental changes within an ecosystem. Its not uncommon for invasive species to contribute to extinction.

EDNA is extremely cost effective in some cases, as DNA may be extracted from virtually any materials in an environment. In other words genetic material can be sourced without the costs of additionally materials for capturing or observing. Once genetic material is found, it must be sequenced in order to identify and classify the organism(s) associated with it. Environmental DNA sampling may well represent the future of ecological surveying because of its utility and cost efficiency. However, it should also be championed because of its minimal impact on wildlife habitats.

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