New genetic test detects manatees’ recent presence in fresh or saltwater

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In Virginia, U.S. Geological Survey scientists developed the first laboratory test that can pick up traces of manatees’ genetic material in the waterways where they live. Using a water sample collected in the field, the innovative environmental DNA test can reveal whether one or more of the elusive marine mammals has been in the area within the past month.

The test can detect the presence of manatees where other methods won’t work, help scientists identify the habitats manatees use and the patterns of their seasonal movements, and inform efforts to bring back wild manatee populations that are considered close to extinction, such as in Brazil or West Africa, said USGS research geneticist Margaret Hunter. Hunter said in their news release, “Environmental DNA detection is the wave of the future for monitoring species that are difficult to find. By combining new advances in eDNA work with other techniques, we’re getting a more complete picture of these wild populations, without disturbing them.”