Local community members are invited to serve as citizen scientists at UC Merced’s next CALeDNA BioBlitz, scheduled for Sunday, May 20, from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. at the Merced Vernal Pools and Grassland Reserve. It’s an opportunity to get up close and personal with the local flora and fauna while contributing to cutting-edge science.
Ecology and genetics experts Professor Jason Sexton and postdoctoral researcher Dannise Ruiz Ramos will train and deputize citizen scientists, teaching attendees how to collect environmental DNA (eDNA) samples from soils on the reserve.
EDNA provides scientists with a molecular tool that reveals what the eye can’t see. Plants and animals constantly shed DNA-containing cells, leaving behind “molecular calling cards” everywhere they go. That DNA becomes part of the environment, and by collecting soil samples, scientists can capture the DNA and use it to identify the many species that have made their way to the vernal pools, including those that have managed to elude observation.
Soil samples collected this weekend will be sent to UCLA for DNA sequencing and genetic analysis. The resulting data will help scientists catalog the diverse microbial, plant and animal species that use the vernal pools reserve as a rest stop or call it home.