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eDNA pioneers

Using innovative methods of environmental DNA testing to search for the critically endangered Yangtze Giant Softshell Turtle in Asia.

Swinhoe's Softshell Turtle (Rafetus swinhoei)

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Whilst UAVs and their underwater cousins have transformed our capacity to survey the inaccessible extremes of our planet’s environment, it is in the lab that perhaps the most stunning advances in conservation science have occurred in recent decades.

There is no better example of this than the stunning revolution in our understanding of DNA. Gone are the days of meticulous physical examinations of specimens to determine their place in the vast taxonomic hierarchy of life. Today, DNA is king; but the application of our knowledge of this fabulously complex discovery continues to morph and branch out into new fields.

One such application is of particular relevance to those seeking to locate elusive endangered creatures in the field. The collection and examination of environmental DNA (or eDNA), is now transforming our ability to detect the presence of individual species in a given area, replacing the meticulous and time-consuming process of manual field surveys.

The Fund has now provided four grants to projects employing this innovative new approach, two of which aim to identify the existence of the Critically Endangered Swinhoe’s softshell turtle (Rafetus swinhoei) in Vietnam. Operating in tandem, these two eDNA projects seek to both identify the presence of specimens of R. swinhoei in lakes near Hanoi ($11,400) and provide training in eDNA techniques ($5,000).

Having been photographed from a distance at one of the target lakes, the Asian Turtle Program (ATP) of Indo-Myanmar Conservation, in conjunction with an eDNA pioneer from Washington State University, used the technique on water samples from Xuan Khanh Lake near Hanoi to formally identify the fourth known individual of R. swinhoei in the world.

Project lead by

Dr Tracie Seimon

Director of Molecular Biology Lab, Wildlife Conservation Society

Wildlife Conservation Society