Critical considerations for communicating environmental DNA science

Environ DNA. 2024 Feb 9;6(1):1-12. doi: 10.1002/edn3.472.


The economic and methodological efficiencies of environmental DNA (eDNA) based survey approaches provide an unprecedented opportunity to assess and monitor aquatic environments. However, instances of inadequate communication from the scientific community about confidence levels, knowledge gaps, reliability, and appropriate parameters of eDNA-based methods have hindered their uptake in environmental monitoring programs and, in some cases, has created misperceptions or doubts in the management community. To help remedy this situation, scientists convened a session at the Second National Marine eDNA Workshop to discuss strategies for improving communications with managers. These include articulating the readiness of different eDNA applications, highlighting the strengths and limitations of eDNA tools for various applications or use cases, communicating uncertainties associated with specified uses transparently, and avoiding the exaggeration of exploratory and preliminary findings. Several key messages regarding implementation, limitations, and relationship to existing methods were prioritized. To be inclusive of the diverse managers, practitioners, and researchers, we and the other workshop participants propose the development of communication workflow plans, using RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) charts to clarify the roles of all pertinent individuals and parties and to minimize the chance for miscommunications. We also propose developing decision support tools such as Structured Decision-Making (SDM) to help balance the benefits of eDNA sampling with the inherent uncertainty, and developing an eDNA readiness scale to articulate the technological readiness of eDNA approaches for specific applications. These strategies will increase clarity and consistency regarding our understanding of the utility of eDNA-based methods, improve transparency, foster a common vision for confidently applying eDNA approaches, and enhance their benefit to the monitoring and assessment community.

Keywords: RACI charts; communication workflow; decision support tools; eDNA; implementation readiness; transition to management; transparency.