Federal and state agencies have begun using residual genetic information taken from the environment—environmental DNA or eDNA—to help make management and regulatory decisions. Environmental DNA can provide information from water, soil, or air samples about the living parts of ecosystems with unprecedented scope, in some cases providing broad surveys of the species present and in others pinpointing hard-to-find species. However, standards for analysis and interpretation have only recently begun to arise in the nascent field of eDNA analysis. As this new and valuable source of information begins to influence the implementation of environmental laws, we survey existing federal uses of eDNA and review federal information requirements relevant to natural resource management—in particular, under the data-hungry Endangered Species Act and National Environmental Policy Act. We find that some agencies are already using eDNA data, and, for the most part, these uses are likely to meet the legal requirements of the controlling statutes and regulations. Though legally acceptable, social factors influence the degree to which a technology becomes widespread in agency practice. We survey likely future scenarios for eDNA uptake and offer recommendations for driving broader adoption of this useful technology and enabling management and regulatory decisions grounded in eDNA as a data source.
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Copyright (c) 2023 Eric Laschever, Ryan P. Kelly, Michelle Hoge, Kai N. Lee