Developing eDNA methods to detect Top End animals

Animals leave DNA traces of their presence in hair, skin, urine, faeces, sperm and eggs that are shed into their surrounding environment. This DNA can be found in the environment for a short time even after visible traces have disappeared, and is called eDNA.

This project showed, for the first time, that eDNA can be used to detect the presence of an endangered bird species simply by collecting a cupful of water from the pools where they drink.

The research developed a genetic probe that targets and identifies eDNA of the endangered Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae), a rainbow-coloured grassfinch endemic to the savanna woodlands of northern Australia.

Gouldian finches live in small and mobile groups, making them difficult to find using standard survey methods. This new eDNA test for Gouldian finches will help the Northern Territory Government in their regional wildlife surveys.

Gouldian finches drinking at a waterhole in the Northern Territory.

Gouldian finches drinking at a waterhole in the Northern Territory. Photo: NESP Northern Australia Hub.

  • Gouldian Finch DNA may be detected in waterholes where they drink or bathe. Minden Pictures/Alamy Stock Photo.
  • Gouldian finch eDNA filter samples. Photo NESP Northern Hub.
  • Gouldian finches moving towards a water hole to drink. Photo NESP Northern Hub.
  • Flock of species that co-occur with gouldian finches departing waterhole. Photo NESP Northern Hub.
  • Environmental DNA has proven to be an efficient way to assess the presence of important species. Photo: Damien Burrows.
  • In aquatic systems, sampling water can provide many insights so now the challenge is to apply this to animals that live on land. Photo: Damien Burrows.
  • This project is developing eDNA methods to specifically detect the Gouldian Finch even when other finch species are present.
  • The Gouldian Finch is the focus of this terrestrial investigation, and field investigations can verify eDNA findings.