From the U.S. Forest
GLADSTONE — The Hiawatha National Forest, the USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point are launching an environmental DNA, or eDNA, sampling project within the forest.
As a first step, USFS staff sampled several streams with variable but known levels of brook trout abundance this fall to determine how detectable this species is using eDNA. The main project focused on lake sturgeon will begin in the spring.
“Environmental DNA technology is revolutionizing the science of aquatic sampling by looking for genetic material in the water rather than by trying to locate individuals of a species,” said Eric Miltz-Miller, a biological science technician working on the Hiawatha’s fisheries team and the project’s instigator.
The USFS’s National Genomics Center, located on the University of Montana campus in Missoula, has been a leader in the development of genomics and eDNA sampling.
Staying abreast of the latest science, Miltz-Miller was interested in using the technology to better manage Hiawatha’s aquatic environments.
So, this summer the forest invested in the necessary equipment, and Miltz-Miller invited USFS scientists, Dr. Paula Marquardt and Dr. Deahn Donner, at the agency’s Northern Research Station in Rhinelander, Wisconsin to join him in bringing eDNA technology to the eastern region.
What is eDNA sampling? As fish and other living organisms move through their surroundings, they shed DNA, genetic material found in body cells, such as through sloughed scales.
hese bits of DNA accumulate in the environment, so a water sample from a stream may contain the DNA from any species, plant or animal, that has been in the water upstream.
“This method is becoming common in the western regions of the agency, but until now, there were no national forests in the forest service’s eastern region using eDNA sampling,” Miltz-Miller said. “My goal is for the Hiawatha to be a regional leader in eDNA research, as well as in utilization of this sampling technique for our everyday jobs.”
This project launched the eDNA program at the Northern Research Station as well. Joel Flory, a wildlife biologist stationed at NRS’s lab in Rhinelander, shares Miltz-Miller’s enthusiasm for the project.
“Scientists are still developing a genome register for plants and animals of the United States,” Flory said. “But the potential sensitivity and efficiency of eDNA sampling compared to traditional sampling methods makes it an attractive tool.”
The forest and NRS each purchased eDNA backpack samplers this summer. Recently, Miltz-Miller and Flory conducted brook trout sampling on the unnamed tributary of the Rock River, Spider Creek, Kilpecker Creek and Ogontz River to familiarize themselves with the equipment prior to initiating the main project next spring.
“The main project will be to build an occupancy model for lake sturgeon on the Hiawatha,” Miltz-Miller said. “We will be sampling in the spring when adults should be migrating to spawn, and in the fall when juveniles will be leaving the river for Lake Michigan.”
According to Miltz-Miller, they chose lake sturgeon as the focus for this initial project because the Michigan Natural Features Inventory considers the species “imperiled,” the state of Michigan identifies it as threatened and the U.S. regional forester lists it as a sensitive species for the Hiawatha National Forest.
“Given the species’ status, the data will be even more important,” he said.
Miltz-Miller and Flory also anticipate collaborating with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and tribes during phases of the project.
For more information about this project, contact Miltz-Miller at 906-474-6442 or wildlife biologist Joel Flory at 715-362-1116.
To learn more about the Hiawatha National Forest, call a USFS office or visit www.fs.usda.gov/hiawatha.