Analysing Wildlife DNA Left in Lakes and Rivers Can Revolutionise Biodiversity Monitoring in The World’s Most Threatened Ecosystems

UK based science start-upNatureMetrics are heading to the UN biodiversity summit in Egypt today to spread the word about how their wildlife monitoring techniques could help in the fight against mass extinction.

The small Surrey-based company, founded by Dr Kat Bruce, has pioneered the commercial use of environmental DNA (known as eDNA) to monitor the presence of species in the environment. This is similar to how we use DNA in forensic science to identify who has been at a crime scene, as Dr Bruce explains:

“When animals come into contact with water, they leave traces of their DNA in the water just like how we leave DNA traces on objects that we touch. For about two days – before it becomes broken down by microorganisms and exposure to the environment – this eDNA can be captured from the water using a simple hand-held filter, and we can analyse it in the laboratory to find out which species it came from”

A recent project undertaken by NatureMetrics and WWF in the Peruvian Amazon demonstrated just how powerful this approach can be; the WWF team filtered 2 litres of water at each of 11 locations and the filters were sent back to theNatureMetrics lab for analysis. Results showed that the filters had trapped the DNA of well over 300 species of animals, including many species that live in the water – such as fish, pink river dolphins, otters and manatees – but, surprisingly, also many species that live on land (e.g. anteaters, porcupines, tapirs, armadillos), and even in the trees (monkeys, squirrels, bats). The scientists believe that DNA from these species is washed into the rivers during the frequent rainstorms that occur in the Amazon. To find such a diversity of species using traditional surveys in the rainforest would have taken a long time even with a specialist team, and it would have been far more expensive.

As well as the advantages in time and cost, identifying species by their DNA also enables monitoring of all the small speciesthat you can’t easily see or identify, but which are vital for the functioning of our ecosystems – something that Dr Bruce says is critical to really understanding and protecting the life support functions provided by nature:

“As humans we rely on healthy ecosystems to be able to produce the food that we eat and many of the resources we rely on. What keeps these ecosystems functioning correctly is a vast web of life from bacteria and fungi to earthworms, bees, plants and larger animals. Too often our assessment of environmental impacts is limited by monitoring only those species we can easily see, and this can leave us blind to important changes happening underneath”.

NatureMetrics are fighting to make wildlife monitoring cheaper, more powerful and so easy to achieve in the field that anyone can submit samples for analysis.

“We believe that with the cost reductions and ease of use we’ve already delivered, monitoring nature by companies, governments and even citizen scientists can become the norm anywhere that projects are impacting on nature”

NatureMetrics will be exhibiting at the UN Convention for Biological Diversity conference from 17th to 22nd November.

Contacts:
Dr Kat Bruce (CEO) – +44 7444 428279kat@naturemetrics.co.uk

Katie Critchlow (Director) – +44 7811732399 / Katie@naturemetrics.co.uk.