Bird DNA in water

We just finished analyzing ~100 stream eDNA samples for Nebraska DEQ. We ran these samples with 12S primers that amplify vertebrate DNA.

The goal of the project was to look for DNA that might be helpful in determining the sources of fecal coliform bacteria in the water. This part was pretty successful, but what was almost more interesting was the list of bird species whose DNA we found.

wood duck
mallard
wigeon
gadwall
rock dove
mourning dove
turkey
chicken
barn swallow
red winged blackbird
melodious blackbird
brown headed cowbird
gray catbird
house sparrow
starling
swainson’s thrush

It’s really an amazing collection of birds that pretty well represents riparian bird assemblages. The chicken DNA is likely coming from agricultural operations, but that remains to be tested..

What’s fascinating is really how much bird DNA is in the water. First obvious question is how it got there. Defecation? And if bird DNA is in there, are their disease-causing organisms in there too? Also, could this tool be used for conservation purposes?

Seems likely.