eDNA Research at Cowles Bog

Indiana Dunes National Park


eDNA Transcript

Hi, I’m Ranger Wendy thanks for joining us today here at the Cowles Bog wetland complex. Today we're going to learn about some research that's going on right here in Indiana Dunes National Park and in the surrounding Calumet Region.

We'll hear from Dr Erin Grey of Governor State University who's very interested in learning about the biodiversity of the wetlands in this area.

Before we meet Dr Grey though, I want to ask you if you wanted to know what kind of things were living in a particular habitat what would you do to find that out maybe you'd go looking, right? Look around to see what you can find or listen. Maybe you could look for evidence that animals were found there, maybe uh footprints animal tracks in the mud or maybe a place where an animal has built its home.

Well interestingly Dr Grey uses another kind of evidence to determine what kind of wildlife exists in a particular wetland. She looks at eDNA. Come on let's go meet Dr Grey.

Hi, Erin how are you doing?

Hi Wendy, I’m doing good great.

Great. Um, this is Dr Erin Grey. Dr Grey is an aquatic ecologist at Governor State University where she is interested primarily studying invertebrates in both marine and um non-marine fresh water habitats. Right, thanks. And so, she's also using eDNA to survey wetlands and wetland conservation strategies in the Calumet Region.

That's right. And you have with you Aaron West. Hey Aaron thanks for joining us. Thank you for having me.

You're a student a recent graduate right, from Governor State?

Yes, I’m a recent biology graduate from Governor State University.

Awesome, well I’m so glad that you came and joined us today.

So, Erin what is eDNA and why is it useful?

EDNA is simply DNA that we can find in the environment. So, in some cases, if I collect a scoop of water I can find DNA from whole organisms ifthey're small like diatoms or in other cases I find DNA that's shed from feces skin or scales of larger organisms and we can use this DNA to identify what's been in the water.

Very interesting, that's cool. So, Erin, what makes this a vernal pool?

Well this is a vernal pool because it's filled with water only part of the year. So, it'll fills up during the spring rains and then by late summer it'll be dried out. And these habitats are very important for a lot of invertebrates and amphibians that need a pool without fish.

oh okay, interesting. So, your eDNA work on vernal pools is part of a pilot study isn't it? What are you trying to learn from this?

That's right. We are trying to learn how best to sample eDNA in these pools. We think that there might be some unique chemistry because of all the decaying leaves in the water, that we might need to think about when we do our eDNA surveys. And we're also not sure how many samples we need to take to get a good picture of the biodiversity in these pools.

Okay so your work here will give you that information. Sounds right, that's right.

Cool well can you and Aaron show us how you collect your samples?

Sure, we'd love to.

Okay what I’m going to do now is I’m going to take my first sample, and for each sample we have a clean sterilized sampling kit to make sure we don't have DNA contamination across samples. So I’m going to come in here and grab a clean bottle to scoop my environmental sample or water. I’m going to come out here. Oh, lots of invertebrates I can see. And now I have my water sample. And then I’m going to give it to Aaron for filtering. And then I’m going to change my gloves because we don't want to contaminate or cross samples.

So now I’m going to take the sample that Dr Erin Grey gave me. I’m going to draw up 60 milliliters into the syringe, close the bottle up so nothing gets in or out, and then I’m going to try to filter 120 milliliters of our sampled water containing eDNA. So all that eDNA catches on the filter and after a while, our micro filter can get pretty clogged up and this will get kind of hard to push through.

So, after we filter it out, we're going to take our tweezers, open the cap, and there you can see our filter with all of our eDNA particulate. I’m gonna fold it up and we're gonna put it in Longmire solution. This is a DNA preservation buffer to make sure that our DNA does not degrade over time, until we get it back to the lab. There we go. Great, let me label this and we'll do some others.

Now that we've taken all of our eDNA samples I’m going to go out into the middle of the vernal pool and take some water quality measurements. This here is a YSI probe and it is going to measure the pH, temperature, conductivity, and nitrate concentration in this vernal pool.

So, when we saw you take the water quality sample out into the vernal pool, what do you use with the data that it collects? I mean how does that factor into your eDNA research?

Yeah so, um, I was taking basic water measurements like, temperature pH, s alkalinity, and nitrates. And what I’m interested in is to see if our eDNA surveys are more or less accurate in different types of vernal pools depending on all those different measurements.

Okay very cool. And we saw the filtering and Aaron's doing more filtering back there.

That's right. Um what happens to all this when you guys get back to the lab? Okay, when we go back to the lab what I’m going to do is I’m going to take the tubes you saw us put the filters in and we are going to extract the DNA out of those filters. And then we're going to screen the eDNA for different invasive species, different endangered species and just general biodiversity.

Very cool. So, Erin and what have you learned in the research that you've done so far?

Well last year we did a pilot survey of hemi-marshes in the region and what we found is that sometimes the water chemistry interfered with our ability to run the eDNA reactions that we needed to run. And we think that this is because of different plant compounds called tannins or humic acids. We also found that in general, eDNA surveys tend to be more accurate for things like fish that probably shed more DNA into the water than things like turtles which have hard shells and might not shed as much DNA.

Very interesting. So, can you tell me how the information that you're learning might help managers who are responsible for managing the natural resources in their parks or wetlands how they might find it useful?

Yeah, our hope is is to develop eDNA surveys that allow the park rangers to survey more habitats and get information a lot quicker than they could if they had to catch the actual organisms. That way they can prioritize habitats for conservation.

That's awesome, very cool. So, thank you so much Erin and thank you back there Aaron. We sure appreciate you guys sharing about your research with all these folks and maybe they'll see you out here on the trail one day Yeah great.


Learn how ecologists use eDNA to study vernal pools. See the tools and methods used to gather important research to help park management maintain the fragile ecosystems at our national parks.


10 minutes, 7 seconds


Jeff Manuszak and Wendy Smith

Date Created


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