Can eDNA be used to detect the world’s largest amphibians?

Raised of $1,950 Goal
Ended on 5/04/23
Campaign Ended
  • $357
  • 19%
  • Finished
    on 5/04/23

About This Project

Despite growing to over 1.8m, Chinese giant salamanders are incredibly difficult to detect in nature as their populations have been catastrophically depleted due to overexploitation. Knowing where they are in the wild is crucial to protect remaining populations. We will trial eDNA methods to detect Chinese giant salamanders using animals seized from the illegal wildlife trade that are housed at London Zoo. Once methods have been validated, they will be used in the field to find the giants!

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What is the context of this research?

Chinese giant salamanders are Critically Endangered and considered a global conservation priority for maintaining evolutionary history. Population declines have been attributed to overexploitation to supply the rapidly expanding farming industry and habitat loss.

Ecological surveys are labour intensive and expensive; this coupled with the rarity of Chinese giant salamanders means they are difficult to detect. Alternative survey methods need to be developed to efficiently cover large areas of habitat in a relatively short period of time.

Living organisms shed DNA in the environment, this eDNA can be extracted and used to confirm the presence of the species in the environment, even if the individual animals are not observed.

What is the significance of this project?

eDNA methods could be a new tool to help us efficiently detect these wild populations across their range in China. Identifying where the last remaining populations exist is a key piece of information needed to direct our conservation efforts and advocate for the protection of this living fossil.

But firstly we need to check the eDNA methods will work, using water samples taken from Chinese giant salamanders enclosures at London Zoo. Following this we can optimise the methods for taking water samples at the field sites across China to detect Chinese giant salamanders in the wild.

What are the goals of the project?

Our study will validate methods to detect Chinese giant salamander eDNA and evaluate how this detection may be influence by environmental factors using water samples from enclosures at London Zoo.

First we will validate the qPCR method developed by Fukumoto et al 2015. Second, we will test two different filters to determine the one most suitable for field sampling.

Following this we will vary water temperature and monitor eDNA degradation over time, to establish whether these could be important considerations when attempting to detect Chinese giant salamanders in the wild.

We will publish our results so that any new methods are available for the wider Chinese giant salamander conservation community to adopt


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We will test two filters to see which is better at detecting Chinese Salamander DNA in water samples. We will take samples at differing water temperature and measure eDNA degradation over time.

eDNA isolation and qPCR will be used to detect Chinese Salamanders DNA from the water samples.

Any additional budget will go towards taking more samples, of increasing the frequency of samples.

Endorsed by

Having been involved in amphibian research for over 15 years, the potential for this method to help in the conservation of this incredible species is fantastic.

Project Timeline

We will attempt to complete this project within 6 months.

We will need to check the qPCR works using positive controls before moving onto testing eDNA in water samples. We will check the filtering capabilities of two different filters (minimum), there is a balance between blocking and DNA retrieval. Finally we can establish if seasonal temperatures (4 month window) and eDNA degradation have an effect on detection success.

Mar 20, 2023

Project Launched

Apr 30, 2023

Test the qPCR assay on known DNA samples (positive controls) to check detection of CGS DNA working.

May 31, 2023

Trial the two filter types for eDNA sampling from water. We want to know the quantity of water that can be sampled without the filter blocking.

Jul 31, 2023

Test if temperature affects detection of eDNA. Seasonal temperature range mirrored by captivity may effect animals shedding DNA. We aim to cover 4 months (14-18C)

Aug 31, 2023

Test how long eDNA can be detected in the water once an animal is removed. eDNA degradation may be a factor to consider when testing for presence in the wild.

Meet the Team

Louise Gibson
Louise Gibson
MSc in Forensic science, BSc in Biochemistry


Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London
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Benjamin Tapley
Benjamin Tapley
PhD in Biodiversity Management, MSc in Conservation Biology


Zoological Society of London
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Team Bio

Our very motivated and enthusiastic team also comprises of Prof. Samuel Turvey, Prof. Andrew Cunningham, PhD students Rosalie Dowell and Joseph Trafford. All members have established skills and experience to make it as successful as possible.

Louise Gibson

I work at the Institute of Zoology, part of the Zoological Society of London. My main focus is developing molecular diagnostic assays for various wildlife conservation projects. Using my background in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, I can help contribute to tackling wildlife conservation issues.

ZSL bio

Benjamin Tapley

I am the curator of reptiles and amphibians at the Zoological Society of London. My primary interests include EDGE species, the conservation breeding and captive management of amphibians and reptiles and conservation prioritisation . I am currently working on Chinese giant salamanders, mountain chicken frogs from the Caribbean and megophryid frogs in Viet Nam.

Additional Information

Project Backers

  • 10Backers
  • 19%Funded
  • $357Total Donations
  • $35.70Average Donation
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