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Swanton Pacific Ranch Research Symposium Session 1

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Robots never tire; one year of sample collection and eDNA analysis on Scott Creek

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Summary

Join us for a presentation from James Birch, Ph.D., of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research of the Future, on his research findings from the Swanton and Scotts Creek area. Birch has been working with new technology to study eDNA in the local water sources and will share in a presentation followed by a moderated Q & A session.

Abstract

In aquatic environments, the use of environmental DNA (eDNA)—the genetic material shed by all animals—has opened new possibilities in monitoring practices. For instance, there is much interest in whether eDNA can be used to reliably and accurately quantify native species (Steelhead trout and Coho salmon) and/or identify invasive species (striped bass and the New Zealand mud snail). Despite the promise of eDNA, its use is limited by the seemingly mundane act of acquiring samples. We have found that our understanding of many ecological processes changes dramatically when sample frequency is increased, but increasing sample frequency is usually not possible with a “human-in-the-loop” due to expense, equipment availability (e.g., boats), remote study/monitoring sites, weather, etc. Thus, introducing an autonomous sampling scheme offers an opportunity to move eDNA studies into the realm of the resource manager.

At the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) we have developed a robotic laboratory-in-a-can we call the Environmental Sample Processor (ESP). The ESP can autonomously collect samples and preserve these samples for later analysis, or perform assays for near real-time results. In this talk, we will share some preliminary results from a 1-year deployment of the robotic ESP instrument at a weir on Scott Creek within the Swanton Pacific Ranch, 15 miles N of Santa Cruz, CA. Water samples were filtered and eDNA collected 1-3 times a day over that year, in order to understand how eDNA signal of ecologically important species (trout, salmon, striped bass) varies with environmental measurements (temp, turbidity, rainfall, etc.) and how the eDNA signal varies within a watershed. This autonomous collecting capability opens the door for fully automating analytical procedures in situ, ultimately resulting in eDNA ‘weather maps’ for the resource manager.

Biography

Jim Birch joined MBARI in April, 2007 and is currently the Director of the SURF Center (Sensors: Underwater Research of the Future), overseeing a group of scientists and engineers engaged in all aspects of ESP design, development, and field deployment. Jim received his B.S. from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and his M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. While a research scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, he worked on the fluid dynamics of insect flight using a scaled robotic insect model immersed in two tons of mineral oil. He continued honing his instrument design experience at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, working on various biodetection technologies and point-of-care diagnostic devices for biomedicine before coming to MBARI.

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