Application of environmental DNA (eDNA) approaches to answer ecological questions

April 23rd, 2018

The Challenge

Management of freshwater systems requires tools that provide in depth understanding across large scales, carried out with economic consideration. Fundamental understanding how biota function is also hampered by the current methods available to scientists. Our aim is to develop and apply DNA-based approaches that offer solutions to the problems that are limiting the management of our aquatic natural resources.

River Murray in South Australia

River Murray in South Australia. PHOTO: Tanya Doody

Our response

  • Our capability

Researchers within Land and Water have used eDNA to demonstrate how biota respond in a range of aquatic systems. Examples include longevity of floodplain soil organisms to extended periods of drying, demonstrating instream community responses to riparian invaders (willows), microbes and functional changes associated with methane seeps in rivers, and more recently, unravelling riverine food webs. Importantly, our teams have strong connections with industry partners. CSIRO has invested in facilities and has encouraged collaboration across Business units and external organisations. The eDNA project involves collaborators from O&A (Hobart and Perth), University of Canberra and Curtin University There is also a wider network of molecular biologists within Land and Water who contribute to wider discussion on applications of eDNA

  •  Science and Innovation

Our research is based on fundamental ecological theory and we apply newly-developed molecular tools to answer those ecological questions. One of the major factors impeding ecological understanding of environmental flows is how food webs actually respond to water manipulations, as current biochemical approaches do not always provide the necessary insight. We are applying eDNA to gut analysis of fish in an attempt to unravel their diets and construct maps of their food resources.

Frog with green spots on a tree

Spotted grass/march frog. PHOTO: Tanya Doody


The first impact of this work is evidenced by the willingness of management agencies to engage with our research projects. Our earlier publications have targeted domains that are likely to be read by practitioners, both in Australia and overseas. Material has been presented at relevant conferences.

Contact Person

Dr Gavin Rees