A review of applications of environmental DNA for reptile conservation and management

Bethany Nordstrom, Nicola Mitchell, Margaret Byrne, Simon Jarman

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Reptile populations are in decline globally, with total reptile abundance halving in the past half century, and approximately a fifth of species currently threatened with extinction. Research on reptile distributions, population trends, and trophic interactions can greatly improve the accuracy of conservation listings and planning for species recovery, but data deficiency is an impediment for many species. Environmental DNA (eDNA) can detect species and measure community diversity at diverse spatio-temporal scales, and is especially useful for detection of elusive, cryptic, or rare species, making it potentially very valuable in herpetology. We aim to summarize the utility of eDNA as a tool for informing reptile conservation and management and discuss the benefits and limitations of this approach. A literature review was conducted to collect all studies that used eDNA and focus on reptile ecology, conservation, or management. Results of the literature search are summarized into key discussion points, and the review also draws on eDNA studies from other taxa to highlight methodological challenges and to identify future research directions. eDNA has had limited application to reptiles, relative to other vertebrate groups, and little use in regions with high species richness. eDNA techniques have been more successfully applied to aquatic reptiles than to terrestrial reptiles, and most (64%) of studies focused on aquatic habitats. Two of the four reptilian orders dominate the existing eDNA studies (56% Testudines, 49% Squamata, 5% Crocodilia, 0% Rhynchocephalia). Our review provides direction for the application of eDNA as an emerging tool in reptile ecology and conservation, especially when it can be paired with traditional monitoring approaches. Technologies associated with eDNA are rapidly advancing, and as techniques become more sensitive and accessible, we expect eDNA will be increasingly valuable for addressing key knowledge gaps for reptiles.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere8995
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


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