Environmental DNA (eDNA) has emerged as a powerful tool for the detection of rare or invasive species and the characterization of changes occurring in ecological communities. By applying massively parallel DNA sequencing analysis on freshly collected water samples, we can now rapidly establish the presence and abundance of organisms across the tree of life, an impossible feat using costly and time-consuming visual surveys. Yet the breakneck speed at which this field has moved has left some understandably cautious about the ‘silver-bullet-ness’ of eDNA-based biomonitoring. Indeed, several important analytical challenges remain, and an understanding of the imitations of eDNA surveys is important to avoid reaching erroneous conclusions.
In this talk, Dr. Shaun Wilkinson will review the current progress and limitations of eDNA biomonitoring, and briefly describe a new machine-learning method for improving the precision and sensitivity of eDNA taxon identification.
Dr. Wilkinson is a biomonitoring consultant and adjunct research fellow at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. His research focuses on characterizing and classifying ecological communities using environmental DNA, and developing algorithms to improve the accuracy, precision and sensitivity of eDNA analysis. For more information, please visit Dr. Wilkinson’s website at https://shaunpwilkinson.github.io