Newsroom Midwest Region

Return on investment: New data collection tool aids in invasive carp effort

February 8, 2018

eDNA staff uses a tablet to record data and communicate between the field and mobile eDNA lab. Photo by Monica Blaser/USFWS.
eDNA staff uses a tablet to record data and communicate between the field and mobile eDNA lab. Photo by Monica Blaser/USFWS.

Each year we collect between 7,000 and 9,000 water samples as part of the Midwest Fish and Aquatic Conservation Program’s environmental DNA (eDNA) work. The water samples are collected from the Upper Mississippi River, Ohio River, Tennessee River, Chicago Area Waterway System, the Illinois River, and tributaries of the Great Lakes. Following collection, water samples are sent to Service’s Whitney Genetics Lab in La Crosse, Wisconsin where scientists look for the presence of trace genetic material from invasive bighead or silver carps. When a water sample is collected, field crews also note field conditions and use Global Positioning System, or GPS, to record the sampling location. The time intensive process is an important component of the Service’s eDNA Quality Assurance Project Plan (PDF). To streamline the water collection process, staff have developed new data collection tools which are resulting in both staff time and cost savings.

Early data management

Prior to 2015, field staff collected water sample location data one of two ways: hand-recording coordinates from a GPS unit on paper or saving them to a fish finder and downloading them upon return to the office. They also collected field condition data manually on paper data sheets, which were later typed into spreadsheets upon return to the office. Each time data was handled added the possibility of errors in transcription. Thus, data had to be thoroughly proofed to ensure accuracy before it could be uploaded to the eDNA database and shared with partners. Time spent on data entry, quality control, and uploading to the database during a busy field season created a significant lag time in communicating results to partners.

Improved data management

Starting in 2016, Service staff began to use the Collector for ArcGIS application, which streamlined many of the steps from the manual data collection method. Data, including GPS coordinates and field data, are now collected and transmitted to the eDNA database on iPads. This has cut collection time of each sample point in half. Furthermore, coordinate data is captured directly, eliminating the chance of transcription errors. The remaining data are entered using pick lists that prevent typing errors and omissions while simultaneously reducing the need for data clean up.

Savings on Service staff time

The new data management system has led to significant time and cost savings for eDNA work. In 2017, Fisheries began using the Collector application on iPads for all eDNA sampling events. The more efficient data collection tools are reducing the lag time in communicating results to partners by a week or more. Sometimes partners can have results in as soon as three days. More efficient use of staff time is also resulting in cost savings, which can be reinvested into additional eDNA work or other mission critical work. After the upfront costs of investing in the technology and training to use the ArcGIS application, it is estimated that the program will be able to save nearly $130,000 each year. Less time spent managing data has also allowed the eDNA coordinator to focus on strengthening collaborative relationships, communicating with the public, and fulfilling critical mission needs. The improved quality of eDNA data also fosters greater confidence and trust in our work.

The idea to use the ArcGIS Collector App was driven from the field up, and made possible through cross-programmatic collaboration between staff from Fish and Aquatic Conservation and the National Wildlife Refuge Program. Working together, the group was able to create an efficient and effective data management tool that has immensely helped our bighead and silver carp eDNA efforts.

Learn more about our bighead and silver carp eDNA surveillance program.