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eDNA – Unveiling Biodiversity

March 21, 2024

Lance Lloyd, Water Adviser 

Dr. Pat McWhirter at Harewood

The Western Port Biosphere Foundation has joined forces with Dr. Pat McWhirter of Harewood and Dr. Nick Murphy from Latrobe University to delve into the biodiversity of Harewood – a historic property in northern Western Port. Harewood is already home to Southern Brown Bandicoots, Growling Grass Frogs, Swamp & Glossy Skinks, and other important species. This collaboration forms part of a comprehensive initiative aimed at unravelling the rewilding efforts undertaken at Harewood. Dr. Murphy and his team tasked Dr. McWhirter with collecting samples from 15 water bodies across Harewood, which were subsequently analyzed for environmental DNA (eDNA) at Latrobe University. The results were then compared against databases containing known species’ DNA profiles.

The findings have been nothing short of intriguing, shedding light on both the species uncovered and those overlooked. They have laid a robust foundation for follow-up sampling efforts and the utilization of alternative gene sequencing techniques.

saline wetland at Harewood

eDNA analysis has not only corroborated existing knowledge gleaned from previous fauna surveys but has also unearthed novel insights into the species composition. For instance, the eDNA data has identified the presence of seven frog taxa, aligning with previous records of seven species. Remarkably, it has also revealed the existence of ten fish species, which had not been subject to specific surveys on-site. Among these discoveries is the presence of the endangered species, Flatback Mangrove Goby (Mugilogobius platynotus), which has relatives which display a remarkable adaptation of being facultative air-breathers. If this is so with this species, the adaptation would provide them with a competitive edge in estuarine environments characterized by mangroves and soft silt sediments, often fraught with low dissolved oxygen levels.

Moreover, the eDNA analysis has unveiled a diverse array of invertebrates, encompassing approximately 100 species from 13 distinct taxonomic groups. This includes sponges, crustaceans, insects, molluscs, and Tardigrades. Tardigrades, colloquially known as “water bears,” are renowned for their resilience to extreme environmental conditions and are important pioneer species by inhabiting new developing environments. This ability to colonise new habitats attracts other invertebrates to populate those habitats.

freshwater wetland at Harewood

These findings are instrumental in comprehending the biodiversity across various water bodies at Harewood, and they serve as invaluable guidance for rewilding endeavours elsewhere. However, the analysis of terrestrial invertebrate data, alongside vegetation surveys and historical sightings, remains ongoing. The efficacy of eDNA as a monitoring tool is underscored by its repeatability, enhancing accuracy, and aiding in the strategic direction of survey initiatives. Ultimately, this technology holds promise in facilitating the restoration of listed species and fragile ecosystems, fostering their recovery and resilience.



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