Environmental DNA

Early detection of aquatic invasive species (AIS) is especially difficult because AIS are hidden beneath the water. Their detection typically occurs when their abundance increases to a point when ecosystem damage begins.

 If we could detect AIS while in low abundance, prior to becoming established, then we would have a strategic advantage in eradicating or suppressing their impacts on the ecology of our water resources and the benefits these resources provide to people and nature. As technology advances, we have had the opportunity to experience just that in the SLELO PRISM, through eDNA analysis.

What is eDNA?

Simply put, environmental deoxyribonucleic acid. But eDNA is a term used for an innovative early detection tool. Using DNA collected from water samples, new technology can detect as little as a single cell from an invasive species. Genuine early detection means detecting the presence of a species before it has the opportunity to populate and cause irreplaceable harm to the ecosystem of concern.

 In the Eastern Lake Ontario Region, the SLELO PRISM partners in cooperation with The Nature Conservancy, the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Cornell University and NYS DEC, have implemented a project to assess the feasibility of using environmental DNA or eDNA as an early detection tool for aquatic invasive species. Over 400 water samples have been collected from four strategic locations along Eastern Lake Ontario and analyzed using highly specialized processes known as qPCR for the presence of genetic material release by both invasive and native aquatic animals.

People and Nature

The Lake Ontario fisheries provides food and income to individuals, families and water-based business’s. This lake-based way of life occurs throughout the Great Lakes and locally along Eastern Lake Ontario.

 When combined with the economic benefits from water-based recreation and tourism, providing healthy, sustainable freshwater resources becomes a local, regional and global priority. Aquatic invasive species have and will continue to have a negative effect on our freshwater resources and the benefits these resources provide. 

Although prevention is the best means by which to reduce invasive species impacts, early detection and rapid response provides the next level of defense towards minimizing their impacts and keeping our freshwater resources healthy. Using environmental DNA provides us with a strategic advantage towards achieving this goal.

SLELO PRISM’s Aquatic Restoration and Resiliency Coordinator, Brittney Rogers, preparing to filter a water sample.

eDNA Webinar Recordings

eDNA Resources


Rob Williams                              rwilliams@tnc.org                     Program Director

Megan Pistolese megan.pistolese@tnc.org
Outreach and Education

Brittney Rogers brittney.rogers@tnc.org 
Aquatic Invasive Species

Robert Smith       robert.l.smith@tnc.org 
Terrestrial Invasive Species

Zachary Simek    zachary.simek@TNC.ORG     Conservation and GIS Analyst

During this time the best way to contact our team is via email.