On the border of England and Wales the River Dee winds through the landscape, creating a habitat for a large number of plants, animals and insects. In 1995 a single ‘scarce yellow sally stonefly’ was collected by an ecologist who was sampling the river. Since then the tiny insect seemingly vanished, with no one able to collect another specimen.
Following over two decades of searching for the scarce yellow sally stonefly one was discovered in the River Dee in 2017, which proved the population still existed. Further stonefly nymphs were collected and reared to their adult stage. DNA was isolated from these specimens, which was then sequenced for a very important use; to become part of an environmental DNA (eDNA) reference library.
Researchers can sample water, soil or air and search through this eDNA sample to identify the DNA of known organisms. In the case of the stonefly, researchers will now be able to take water samples from the River Dee and use a reference library of local organisms’ DNA to determine which species are present, without ever having to capture, or indeed see, the species. This noninvasive sampling is an incredibly useful way of monitoring environments to detect which species are and are not present. Had eDNA been available back in 1995 no one would have ever thought the scare yellow sally stonefly was locally extinct.
Source: New York Times
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