Adrian Salinas, general engineer with the U.S. Army Environmental Command and environmental project manager with the National Defense Center for Energy and Environment, filters a water sample at the Natural Resources Conservation Office on Fort Hood, Texas.
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Jinelle Sperry, wildlife biologist with the Construction Engineering Research Laboratory, takes a water sample at Cowhouse Creek at Fort Hood, Texas.
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SAN ANTONIO -- Environmental DNA analysis has emerged as a rapid, cost-effective option for detecting and monitoring rare and elusive wildlife including species of conservation concern on military installations.

Under the aegis of the National Defense Center for Energy and Environment, Army scientists are currently conducting an eDNA demonstration/validation project at Army installations in Texas, Louisiana and Hawaii.

Many Army installations currently monitor threatened and endangered species as required by the Endangered Species Act of 1973, but traditional surveys can be labor-intensive, costly, and often require seasonal contracting of personnel with specialized expertise.

“EDNA analysis technology can detect and identify species from the DNA they have shed into the environment without requiring animals to be physically present at the time of sampling,” said Jinelle Sperry, a wildlife biologist with the Army’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory and lead scientist for the eDNA demonstration/validation project. “EDNA has the potential to transform DOD capabilities for monitoring endangered species and other species of conservation concern on military installations.”

“Compared to traditional survey methods, eDNA analysis can provide much greater detection sensitivity, reduces costs by not requiring labor-intensive field efforts, and does not require specialized expertise in visually identifying species,” said Sperry.

As an example, Sperry explained that capturing an alligator snapping turtle using traditional trapping methods at Fort Polk, La., takes on average 210 hours of work per turtle. Using eDNA analysis methods requires only 22 hours. These results suggest a 90% reduction in labor expenses per capture using eDNA compared to traditional sampling for this species on DoD lands. 

“Lands controlled by the U.S. Army provide habitat for a large number of the nation's threatened and endangered species,” said Taura Huxley, a biologist in the Conservation Branch of U.S. Army Environmental Command.

The Endangered Species Act imposes restrictions on military activities necessary to protect threated and endangered species and their critical habitat, which can negatively impact the military's readiness mission. The Army has identified over 250 threatened, endangered, proposed, and candidate species on, or near its installations.

“Military installations and ranges are critical for training Soldiers and preparing them for real-world missions,” said Jennifer Rawlings, NDCEE program manager. “Successful validation of the eDNA technology could lead to more accurate data, reduce safety concerns, and minimize survey costs for all DOD installations.”

The NDCEE serves as a national resource for advancing technologies and processes that address high-priority environmental, safety, occupational health, and energy challenges. Created by Congressional mandate in 1991, the NDCEE works to integrate ESOHE impact decisions into the life cycle planning of DOD activities and new technologies.