An environmental DNA (eDNA) approach to discovering life in NYC Ponds

Backed by Peter Petroski, Joe Helferty, Seth Wollney, Eugenia Naro-Maciel, Ariel A, Joy Keithline, Sandra Paci, Catherine Barron, Jeffrey Stetson, Allison Simpson, and 152 other backers
College of Staten Island CUNY
Staten Island, New York
Open Access
DOI: 10.18258/4808
Raised of $17,000 Goal
Funded on 6/18/15
Successfully Funded
  • $17,000
  • 100%
  • Funded
    on 6/18/15

About This Project

Various human impacts, such as pollution and buildings, can shape freshwater pond ecosystems in the urban landscape of New York City. Ponds are important centers of biodiversity in cities and benefit humans in many ways. This project will inventory the biological communities in seven ponds using cutting-edge environmental DNA collection techniques. Data from our surveys will lead to a deeper understanding of what humans can do to help conserve these important ecosystems for future generations.

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What is the context of this research?

The biodiversity of ponds is an understudied topic in ecology, especially ponds in urban landscapes. Complete and correct identification of organisms is at the heart of any ecological study. This project utilizes cutting-edge environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling techniques. Preliminary results from late summer 2014 sampling have detected numerous invasive species and high degree of dissimilarity among our seven study ponds. Understanding why biodiversity differs between ponds in the changing landscape of an urban setting is central to discovering how to plan sustainable cities for future generations. With your help this research will gain new understanding of how human influences alter the living environment of the urban landscape.

What is the significance of this project?

This is the first major exploration of biodiversity of ponds in New York City. The project also benefits education by providing research opportunities for graduate and undergraduate students, as well as high school students. Results from this project will aid city planners, urban ecologists, and park managers in making data based decisions.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling has been in use in bacterial studies since the 1980's. This project represents one of the first applications of eDNA analyses to obtain a snapshot of pond biodiversity. eDNA techniques stand to replace classic pond survey methods by offering rapid results, easy identification of organisms and less destructive sampling techniques. This project will explore how to optimize eDNA uses in freshwater pond assessments.

What are the goals of the project?

-View the NY1 story about the project to see us in action!

-Use the new methods of environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling to gain a comprehensive understanding of all organisms living in urban ponds (bacteria, fungi, plants, animals)

-Advance the use of eDNA in ecological assessments and promote the use of these non-destructive sampling techniques

-Compare biodiversity differences in seven urban ponds throughout the spring and summer

-Use data for ecological modeling to aid in future conservation projects

-Engage high school and undergraduate students in authentic ecological research in their own backyards


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The vast amount of information available by collecting environmental DNA using Next Generation Sequencing technology is bringing about a revolution in the field of ecology. In the new age of genetics and bioinformatics, we need to apply these cutting-edge tools to new questions being raised in urban ecology such as how newly introduced invasive species affect native organisms and how these new biological communities impact ecosystem services. Funds raised from this effort will cover: 1) processing and sequencing of eDNA samples during summer 2015 ($11,000); 2) field supplies ($2,000); and 3) two stipends for undergraduate research assistants ($2,000 each). We are looking to raise a total of $17,000 for this summer's research to move forward.

Endorsed by

This is a really excellent project and I enthusiastically support it! It has significant research, education and conservation benefits. Thanks for considering a donation!

Meet the Team

Seth Wollney
Seth Wollney

Team Bio

As a native New Yorker, I have been a life-long naturalist exploring the ponds, woods, fields and beaches of the city. I am fortunate to have been given the opportunity to pursue a doctoral degree specializing urban ecology. While passionate about almost everything that concerns ecology and natural history, I have particular interest in birds, turtles, dragonflies and moths.

From November 2001 to April of 2013, I was employed at the Staten Island Museum. During my tenure at the museum I integrated citizen science projects into the institution's program offerings.

I graduated from the College of Staten Island in January 2013 with a B.S. in biology. The following fall I entered the Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior subprogram at the CUNY Graduate Center. I am currently working on my doctoral degree at the Conservation Genetics lab of Dr. Eugenia Naro-Maciel, College of Staten Island, CUNY. My thesis project investigates how biological communities found in urban ponds are impacted by human activities with a particular focus on painted turtle (Chrysemys picta) ecology and population biology.

In March 2015, I received an Honorable Mention from the National Science Foundation's Graduate Research Fellowship Program!

Seth Wollney

Seth Wollney is a doctoral student at the College of Staten Island, CUNY working on freshwater biodiversity inventories using environmental DNA collection. Please see my site, "An environmental DNA (eDNA) approach to discovering life in NYC Ponds".

Additional Information

A day in the field at Long Pond checking turtle traps with Nora!

First collection of the spring/summer at Walker Pond!

Sometimes we find other critters while out samples... like this snapping turtle that Rossana just reached down and grabbed like a PRO!

Project Backers

  • 162Backers
  • 100%Funded
  • $17,000Total Donations
  • $52.69Average Donation
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