Charles Darwin University researchers are at the forefront of using new technology to detect wildlife in the Top End, with the endangered Gouldian finch (Eurythura gouldiae) as the test case.
Research has shown that “environmental DNA”, known as eDNA, can be detected in soil and water frequented by fauna. This research approach will be used to monitor threatened animals, pests and species of high cultural value.
Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods Director Professor Karen Gibb co- led the team in this ground-breaking three-stage project.
“In collaboration with Curtin University, a DNA technique was developed to detect the Gouldian finch – and rule out other species – to track remaining finch populations more accurately,” Professor Gibb said.
“Through extensive analysis, researchers identified and optimised DNA probes that bound to Gouldian finch DNA but did not bind to the DNA of two other finch species.”
Professor Gibb said a controlled field experiment was then conducted to sample eDNA in water in aviaries at the Territory Wildlife Park.
“The probe proved extremely sensitive and provided a positive result using DNA extracted from the drinking water of Gouldian finches but not from other bird species,” she said.
“We tested how long the eDNA could be detected in the water after the finches last had a drink and if environmental factors such as turbidity made a difference.”
NT Government’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources researchers are now working with CDU to test the technique on waterholes in the Top End.
Although surveillance using eDNA is set to be a game-changer in biodiversity conservation and land management, traditional methods will still be used until the new method can also be used to assess bird numbers.
With the Gouldian finch flourishing in captivity, thanks to its iridescent beauty, this research will inform strategies to make sure these dazzling birds continue to illuminate Outback skies for generations to come.
This CDU project is supported through funding from the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Program and the NT Government.