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eDNA technology revolutionises invasive species biosecurity



  • eDNA is a fast, cost-effective alternative to traditional methods. It improves biosecurity by detecting low-density and hidden species over large areas.

  • Our eDNA technology allows early detection of invasive species, like yellow crazy ants and Varroa mites. It enables rapid biosecurity response and management to stop their spread.

  • We involve Indigenous Rangers, citizen scientists, and stakeholders in biosecurity monitoring programs. This improves surveillance and reporting accuracy.

Key points

eDNA technology revolutionises invasive species biosecurity


Cecilia Villacorta-Rath

Senior Research Officer

Damien Burrows

Director, TropWATER Founder

Research leads

Challenges detecting and managing invasive species

Invasive species are a serious threat to ecosystems, native species, and agricultural systems, leading to substantial economic and environmental damage. Early detection and management of invasive species are critical for effective biosecurity measures.

Traditional monitoring methods, such as visual surveys, trapping or netting, have many limitations. They can be time-consuming, labour-intensive, require considerable training/experience and cannot detect species over large areas. It can also be difficult to detect low-density, rare species or small cryptic species.

These limitations can cause delays in detecting invasive species, allowing them to establish and spread before effective management actions can be implemented. Using environmental DNA technology as an alternative method can fast-track detection and improve biosecurity management efforts.

How our eDNA technology is detecting invasive species

Environmental DNA (eDNA) research plays a vital role in for detecting and monitoring invasive species for biosecurity management.

Our team are leading efforts to combat invasive species through advancing environmental DNA (eDNA) research, providing a cost-effective and rapid method that can cover large areas.

By analysing DNA fragments shed into the environment by a target species, we can detect invasive species early, even before signs of infestation become apparent.

Detecting Yellow crazy ants

Yellow crazy ants are considered one of the world’s most invasive species, with outbreaks found in Queensland, and more broadly in Australia and the Indo-Pacific. Left untreated, the acid-spraying and voracious ants can increase in density to consist of millions of workers, with a detrimental impact on native fauna.

  • Our eDNA research has developed a world-first environmental DNA (eDNA) method that can detect infestations. of this terrestrial invertebrate from water samples in adjacent waterbodies.

  • We tested and validated eDNA technology in the field, detecting yellow crazy ants even at low populations.

  • We are working towards determining how can eDNA sampling be used for timely identification of yellow crazy ants incursions, enabling rapid response and control measures to prevent further spread.

Invasive ants across Great Barrier Reef Islands

We are improving monitoring capacity for targeted invasive ants across high-risk islands of the Great Barrier Reef. This includes yellow crazy ants, electric ants, red imported fire ants, tropical fire ants.

  • Our eDNA monitoring of these invasive ant species is detecting early incursions.

  • We are training Indigenous Rangers, citizen scientists, tour operators, and community members to take part in monitoring programs.

  • Our research is utilising rapid detection of target species to prompt eradication efforts, thereby mitigating their impact on native biodiversity.

  • The data generated by the project is prioritising future prevention efforts.

Screening of Varroa mites using eDNA technology

This project tests the application of environmental DNA (eDNA) methods for invasive honeybee Varroa mites.

  • Utilising eDNA methods, we have established reliable protocols for detecting Varroa mites in honeybee populations.

  • Our research has contributed to the development of portable diagnostic technology, allowing for on-site screening of bees and swift identification of Varroa mite infestations.

  • The application of eDNA technology has enhanced biosecurity measures in beekeeping operations, facilitating early intervention to manage Varroa mite outbreaks.

How eDNA research is revolutionising biosecurity

Our eDNA research has significantly transformed biosecurity efforts by enabling early detection and effective management of invasive species. This technology enhances biosecurity surveillance through:

  • Developing and implementing robust eDNA methods for detecting priority invasive species such as ants and Varroa mites.

  • Using state-of-the-art lab analysis and portable sequencing devices for rapid, precise screening.

  • Engaging Indigenous Rangers, citizen scientists, and stakeholders in community-based monitoring programs.

  • Collaborating with stakeholders and research partners to streamline field applications and optimise data collection.

  • Supporting proactive conservation and management strategies for swift responses to invasive species incursions.

Our innovative methodologies drive significant advancements in biosecurity, paving the way for a more resilient and protected natural environment.

Project details

Funders include Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment - Advancing Pest Animal and Weed Control Solutions Competitive Grant Round, Great Barrier Reef Foundation - Reef Trust Partnership, and Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment - National Soil Science Challenge. Partners include Townsville City Council, Invasive Species Council, Department of Environment, Science and Innovation, and OzFish Unlimited.Collaborators include Insect Ecology Lab (JCU Cairns), Centre for Tropical Biosecurity (JCU), EcoDNA Laboratory, and University of Canberra.

Reports or journals

Villacorta-Rath C, Lach L, Andrade-Rodriguez N, Burrows D, Gleeson D, Trujillo-González A (2023) Invasive terrestrial invertebrate detection in water and soil using a targeted eDNA approach. NeoBiota 83: 71-89.

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