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Science panel to assist state in use of eDNA testing for mussel identification 

News from the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation                                     

HELENA –  The Montana Invasive Species Council (MISC), in coordination with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and partners from the U.S. Geological Survey, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and the Flathead Lake Biological Station, has formed a science advisory panel to assist the state in developing protocols for the use of environmental DNA testing to provide early detection of aquatic invasive mussels. 

“Montana is extremely fortunate to have the input of these scientists,” said Tom Woolf, aquatic invasive species bureau chief with FWP. “They will help us understand the state of this technology and how we can advance eDNA testing as a tool for early detection. Invasive species managers across the West have grappled for some time with how and when to use this testing method.”

Last summer, FWP received notice of positive eDNA detections for invasive mussels at Tiber Reservoir. Woolf said one of the keys to using eDNA tests is knowing how to interpret the results.

“It’s a complex process,” Woolf said. “A positive test result can have more than one interpretation.”

The MISC science advisory panelists include the following individuals:

– Caren Goldberg, assistant professor, Washington State University, Pullman, WA. Ms. Goldberg is an ecologist and researcher focusing on detection of rare species using eDNA. She’s one of the first biologists in the Pacific Northwest to take eDNA as a detection tool from demonstration experiments to practical applications.

– John Darling, senior research biologist, Environmental Protection Agency National Exposure Research Laboratory. Mr. Darling’s research has focused on applying genetic methods to understand the spread of aquatic invasive species, to better inform risk analysis and the creation of public policy and management strategies.

– Jim Snider, research scientist, California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Mr. Snider’s work includes conducting studies on the accuracy and reliability of invasive mussel larvae detection, and larvae survivability under varying conditions.

– Karen Vargas, AIS coordinator, Nevada Department of Wildlife (Ret.). Ms. Vargas recently retired after developing and implementing Nevada’s AIS program, which includes watercraft inspection efforts at Lake Mead. She has experience with the challenges of using eDNA as a detection tool and applying results to management decisions.

– John Amberg, fish biologist researcher, United States Geological Service, Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center. Mr. Amberg’s work has included years of evaluating the use of eDNA for detection of Asian Carp, an invasive fish species. From this work emerged a quality action plan that identifies required protocols for eDNA sampling and processing, which have led to definitive test results regardless of the laboratory processing the sample. 

– Robert Bajno, biologist, Fisheries and Oceans Canada. Mr. Bajno’s research includes the development of eDNA protocols for the detection and monitoring of aquatic organisms of management concern. His current work is focused on the detection of zebra mussels in Manitoba, and at-risk and colonizing freshwater fish species in Canada’s prairies and arctic regions.

For more information, please contact Stephanie Hester at the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation at 406-444-0547.

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