Researchers at the University of Notre Dame have received $1.5 million to develop models that will improve the monitoring of endangered or invasive species in flowing waters, like streams and rivers, using information from environmental DNA (eDNA) samples. In aquatic systems, genetic material (eDNA) is left behind in by different organisms and can be detected through water sampling. Notre Dame researchers will develop models that can take “positive hits” determined by water samples and pinpoint the source location of a certain species, whether it is near the sampling site or is from a location many miles upstream.
Overall, this research has the potential to change how land managers and surveyors identify what aquatic species are in streams and rivers, how many, and where are they can be found.
“Species detection, from a water sample taken from flowing water, is a challenge,” said Jennifer Tank, Ludmilla F., Stephen J., and Robert T. Galla Professor of Biological Sciences, director of the Notre Dame Environmental Change Initiative (ND-ECI), and lead on the project. “To improve the utility of eDNA sampling, we have put together an incredibly diverse team – combining expertise in environmental genomics, freshwater biology, hydrology, and environmental engineering – with the goal of generating outcomes and scholarship that will improve the monitoring of rare, endangered, or invasive species in flowing waters.”
Funded by the Department of Defense’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), the research team will evaluate eDNA detection and transport for application in stream monitoring. Through a combination of experiments, field studies, and modeling, the research will help the Tank and others develop a novel platform for species detection. The interdisciplinary team will consist of researchers from Notre Dame and Rice University that will work to improve eDNA quantification, accurate identification if environmental drivers that influence eDNA detection and interpretation, and the incorporation of data from field samples into predictive models.
For the SERDP award, key elements of the experimental work will be conducted at the Notre Dame Linked Environmental Ecosystem Facility (ND-LEEF), which is a globally unique research facility that allows researchers to implement manipulative experiments in a field-like setting, but in a more controlled environment.
“By utilizing our joint expertise in the new field of eDNA surveillance and incorporating a facility like ND-LEEF into what we do, our goal is to improve how people monitor biodiversity, including the distribution of rare species in waterways that currently present a challenge for land managers or surveyors,” said Diogo Bolster, associate professor in the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering & Earth Sciences (CEEES), Frank M. Freimann Collegiate Chair in Hydrology, and associate director of ND-ECI.
Collaborators from Notre Dame include Kyle Bibby, associate professor and Wanzek Collegiate Chair in CEEES; and Gary Lamberti, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences. Scott Egan, assistant professor in the Department of Biosciences at Rice University, and Arial Shogren, former Ph.D. student at Notre Dame and current postdoctoral scholar at Michigan State University, will collaborate on the research as well.
At Notre Dame, ND-ECI brings together over 60 researchers across diverse disciplines to help people and ecosystems adapt to climate change, mitigate the effects of land use impacts, predict species occurrences in a shifting world and improve water quality. The initiative works hand-in-hand with partners to support research that matters to society, answering the most critical environmental questions of our time. To learn more about ND-ECI, please visit environmentalchange.nd.edu.