Using environmental DNA and community science to detect salamanders in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
In 2015 Tremont partnered with Dr. Todd Pierson, then a PhD student at the University of Tennessee, to test and implement the emerging monitoring technique of using DNA to survey for species of salamanders present in our Streams.
Why use environmental DNA (eDNA) instead of simply identifying species as you find them? Dr. Pierson says, “Some salamanders are often difficult to find (and identify) reliably. Using this method, we can identify which species are present in a stream by collecting their DNA that is floating in the water!” DNA could provide more accurate species identification that could be provided by human sight alone.
Community Scientists were trained in the methods and took water samples for analysis from June 2015 to April 2016. Community Scientists also continued direct surveys in order to compare the results and ensure the same species diversity was being captured through each method. Check out Gar Secrist’s (former Tremont Teacher Naturalist and Community Scientist) presentation at the 2017 NPS Science Colloquium.
Louisiana Waterthrushes (LOWA, Parkesia motacilla) and Acadian Flycatchers (ACFL, Empidonax virescens) are breeding birds associated with headwaters streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Because of its location on the banks of the Middle Prong River in the Walker Valley, the banding station at the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont is ideally situated for a study on these two riparian songbirds. LOWA’s are the only obligate riparian songbird species east of the Mississippi, and they depend on small streams in mature forest for foraging and nesting locations. ACFL’s are frequently associated with streams and ravines, and in the Smokies they tend to nest in the lower branches of Eastern Hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis). Due to the natural history of these two species, they could potentially be impacted by the decline of the Eastern Hemlock.
Lee Bryant and Tiffany Beachy, with others, worked to study these potential impacts beginning in 2012 and culminating in Bryant’s thesis to complete her Master of Science Degree in 2018, which can be found here.
While this specific research project has completed, Tremont continues to run our banding station each breeding season. For more information or to get involved, check out our Bird Banding page.