tool of the future?
Conservation efforts depend on the knowledge of species distribution patterns and population size estimates in order to know what needs protection and the subsequent impacts of conservation efforts. But there are a number of difficulties association with biodiversity monitoring techniques, including issues to do with correct species identification and invasive methods.
Environmental DNA – “genetic material obtained directly from environmental samples (soil, sediment, water etc.) without any obvious signs of biological source material” – could be a non-invasive and easy to standardise method of biodiversity monitoring. The advances of next-generation sampling technologies has meant individual or multiple species (through DNA metabarcoding) can be detected from such environmental samples quickly and cheaply.
Thomsen and Willerslev (2015) provide a thorough review of the main findings, future potential and limitations of eDNA for biodiversity monitoring and conservation. They document the successes of eDNA so far and discuss pitfalls such as contamination, inhibition, errors, interpretation and problematic reference DNA databases.