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A newly formed science advisory panel will assist Montana in developing protocols for the use of environmental DNA testing to provide early detection of aquatic invasive mussels.

“Montana is extremely fortunate to have the input of these scientists,” said Tom Woolf, Aquatic Invasive Species bureau chief with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. “They will help us understand the state of this technology and how we can advance eDNA testing as a tool for early detection. Invasive species managers across the West have grappled for some time with how and when to use this testing method.”

Last summer, FWP received notice of positive eDNA detections for invasive mussels at Tiber Reservoir. Woolf said one of the keys to using eDNA tests is knowing how to interpret the results.

“It’s a complex process,” Woolf said. “A positive test result can have more than one interpretation.”

The Montana Invasive Species Council, in coordination with FWP and partners from the U.S. Geological Survey, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, and the Flathead Lake Biological Station will consult with these science advisory panelists:

  • Caren Goldberg, assistant professor, Washington State University, an ecologist and researcher focusing on detection of rare species using eDNA. She’s one of the first biologists in the Pacific Northwest to take eDNA as a detection tool from demonstration experiments to practical applications.
  • John Darling, senior research biologist, Environmental Protection Agency National Exposure Research Laboratory. Darling’s research has focused on applying genetic methods to understand the spread of aquatic invasive species, to better inform risk analysis and the creation of public policy and management strategies.
  • Jim Snider, research scientist, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, who has conducted studies on the accuracy and reliability of invasive mussel larvae detection, and larvae survivability under varying conditions.
  • Karen Vargas, retired AIS coordinator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife, developed and implemented Nevada’s AIS program, which includes watercraft inspection efforts at Lake Mead. She has experience with the challenges of using eDNA as a detection tool and applying results to management decisions.
  • John Amberg, fish biologist researcher, U.S. Geological Survey, Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, has evaluated the use of eDNA for detection of Asian carp, an invasive fish species. From this work emerged a quality action plan that identifies required protocols for eDNA sampling and processing, which have led to definitive test results regardless of the laboratory processing the sample.
  • Robert Bajno, biologist, Fisheries and Oceans Canada, whose research includes the development of eDNA protocols for the detection and monitoring of aquatic organisms of management concern. His current work is focused on the detection of zebra mussels in Manitoba, and at-risk and colonizing freshwater fish species in Canada’s prairies and arctic regions.