Biological monitoring programs are essential foundations for effective management of estuaries and coasts, but they can be expensive to conduct and may be traumatic for the target species. Advancements in DNA methods now make it possible to identify the organisms in an area by the DNA they leave behind. Environmental DNA (eDNA) comes from feces, gametes, scales, and cells that an organism sheds, and is easily collected from water and sediment samples. Rapid reductions in analytical costs now allow scientists to analyze eDNA in water samples and identify dozens of species without having to capture live animals or plants. Researchers from the University of New Hampshire and the NERRS are currently collaborating in a 2017 Collaborative Research project to pilot and refine DNA-based monitoring protocols that can be applied to specific issues and species of interest in estuarine ecosystems.
The EstuariesDNA website, developed by the project team, describes the use of eDNA in biological monitoring programs in estuaries and the project team's approach in piloting eDNA monitoring protocols. The site details the project team's finalized field and laboratory protocols, as well as data and preliminary results.