The collection of eDNA is just the first step in trying to identify species from the bits of themselves they leave behind as they roam different habitats. The dead skin, saliva, scat, and other cellular material that organisms shed must then be analyzed in a laboratory using molecular methods.

At Washington State University’s School of the Environment, associate professor Caren Goldberg extracts the DNA trapped in the filters that [National Park Service biologist Andy] Hubbard sends from southern Arizona. “We do one species at a time, and then sometimes we have to do some extra cleaning on the samples, and then we process all the data, and we double-check it to make sure everything looks good before sending it back,” she said.

Environmental technology is a valuable tool for finding elusive species like frogs, Goldberg said. She knows how slippery the creatures can be because, as a University of Arizona student, she completed her master’s thesis after chasing barking frogs in the mountains and surveying Chiricahua leopard frogs that can be difficult to see in murky, and often deep, water holes.

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