March 13 (UPI) -- A new method of identifying elusive mammals, using DNA found in river water, may improve how scientists monitor species, researchers in Britain announced.
Ecologists from five British universities and one Norwegian university collaborated with researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst to study if environmental DNA, or eDNA, can be used as a monitoring tool to observe elusive and endangered species.
"Some mammal species are notoriously difficult to monitor," said UMass environmental conservation student Joseph Drake. "We knew the potential of eDNA was massive, but when it comes to conservation, it is extremely important that we validate new approaches, and that's what we set out to do in this study."
Environmental DNA methods could revolutionize conservation and ecology research, UMass researcher Christopher Sutherland added. DNA shed from animals eventually is found in rivers, and provides a quick portrait of the local mammal community.
"We currently use many ways of detecting and monitoring mammals, from looking for signs such as footprints or feces, to using camera traps to take photos of them over several weeks," said Allan McDivitt of the University of Salford. "Now, we may just simply need to collect a few bottles of water and take it to the laboratory and look at the DNA we find."
Researchers collected water and sediment from streams and rivers in Scotland and England, and found DNA from over 20 wild British mammals. They concluded that the method offered "similar or better performance" compared to the more-costly use of camera traps or detection of field evidence.
Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the Universities of Salford, Aberdeen, Hull, Liverpool John Moore and Sheffield in England and Scotland, and Norway's University of Tromso participated in the study. It was reported earlier this week in the Journal of Applied Ecology, published by the British Ecological Society.