Research by the University of Kent has revealed how tiny amounts of DNA (eDNA) released into water by great crested newts can be used to monitor the species. This can bring benefits for its conservation, and help protect great crested newts from major construction projects.
It has also revealed, for the first time, how great crested newt eDNA varies throughout the year in relation to population size and environmental factors.
PhD student Andrew Buxton and a team from the Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE) in the University's School of Anthropology and Conservation studied great crested newts on the Canterbury campus, where there are eight identical ponds.
Surveying the newts every 14 days throughout the year, Buxton and his team mapped the amount of DNA in the water as it changed through the seasons in relation to the number of newts and their behaviour - from their arrival in March through their breeding season in May, until the start of hibernation in October. During breeding, the newts are very active and release a lot eggs, sperm and DNA into the water. This results in a peak in DNA towards the end of the breeding period, which may be the best time to take water samples to detect the species.
eDNA sampling can improve the effectiveness of surveys on sites scheduled for development. By finding rare species early in a development there is less chance of delays than if they are found once it has started, saving time and money.
The great crested newt is protected under European law although it is not uncommon in the south-east of England, which is one of their strongholds in the UK. They have however suffered dramatic declines over the last 60 years, due to development and agricultural changes.
The team's paper, entitled Seasonal variation in environmental DNA in relation to population size and environmental factors - Andrew S. Buxton, Jim J. Groombridge, Nurulhuda B. Zakaria & Richard A. Griffiths, is published in Scientific Reports on 10 April 2017.
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Established in 1965, the University of Kent - the UK's European university - now has almost 20,000 students across campuses or study centres at Canterbury, Medway, Tonbridge, Brussels, Paris, Athens and Rome.
It has been ranked: 23rd in the Guardian University Guide 2017; 23rd in the Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2017; and 23rd in the Complete University Guide 2017.
In the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings 2015-16, Kent is in the top 10% of the world's leading universities for international outlook and 66th in its table of the most international universities in the world. The THE also ranked the University as 20th in its 'Table of Tables' 2016.
Kent is ranked 17th in the UK for research intensity (REF 2014). It has world-leading research in all subjects and 97% of its research is deemed by the REF to be of international quality.
In the National Student Survey 2016, Kent achieved the fourth highest score for overall student satisfaction, out of all publicly funded, multi-faculty universities.
Along with the universities of East Anglia and Essex, Kent is a member of the Eastern Arc Research Consortium.
The University is worth £0.7 billion to the economy of the south east and supports more than 7,800 jobs in the region. Student off-campus spend contributes £293.3m and 2,532 full-time-equivalent jobs to those totals.
In 2014, Kent received its second Queen's Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.