Vertebrate environmental DNA from leaf swabs

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Terrestrial vertebrates are threatened by anthropogenic activities around the world. The rapid biodiversity loss that ensues is most intense in the tropics and affects ecosystem functions, such as seed dispersal, or may facilitate pathogen transmission1. Monitoring vertebrate distributions is essential for understanding changes in biodiversity and ecosystems and also for adaptive management strategies. Environmental DNA (eDNA) approaches have the potential to play a key role in such efforts. Here, we explore whether eDNA swabbed from terrestrial vegetation in a tropical biodiversity hotspot is a useful tool for vertebrate biomonitoring. By swabbing leaves, we collected eDNA from 24 swabs at three locations in Kibale National Park, Uganda and used two metabarcoding systems to catalog the vertebrate taxa in the samples. We detected 52 wild vertebrate genera, including 26 avian and 24 mammalian genera; 30 of these assignments could be refined to the species level. We detected an average of 7.6 genera per swab. This approach, with its inexpensive and simple collection and DNA extraction, opens the door for inexpensive large-scale vertebrate biomonitoring.

Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number16
Pages (from-to)R853-R854
Publication statusPublished - 2023

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