Air pollution monitoring may accidentally help scientists track biodiversity

Monday, June 5, 2023 - 10:32 in Biology & Nature

The ability to track animals and plants is up in the air — literally — thanks to help from an unexpected source. Around the globe, many air quality control stations filter air through small paper disks on a daily or weekly basis, allowing scientists to ensure concentrations of hazardous pollutants such as heavy metals are below certain levels. But the filters also pick up plant and animal DNA that has been scattered into the wind, researchers report June 5 in Current Biology. The eDNA, short for environmental DNA, on those filters could make air quality control stations a treasure trove of samples cataloging local animals and plants. Such records could help researchers track biodiversity at a larger scale than ever before and more easily catch species declines or track how ecosystems are changing overall. “It’s this incredible system that already exists, and we’re effectively piggybacking on it for a totally new use,” says...

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