eDNA dynamics and applications - Environmental DNA, in its simplest sense, is DNA extracted from any type of environmental sample (e.g. soil, water, air, etc.), without isolation of a particular organism. Combined with modern genetic tools, eDNA offers a non-invasive means to identify species or communities associated with the environment from which the DNA was extracted. Since its emergence as a reliable tool for conservation and invasion biology, eDNA has become a key research focus for many accademic researchers, private companies and government agencies.
Despite the high intrest in eDNA research, there are still many gaps in our knowledge of how eDNA behaves and functions. Our lab focuses on understanding the ecological dynamies (e.g. state, fate and transport) of eDNA in aquatic and terrestircal enviroments within Hong and the surrounding area, which looks to assist collaborative efforts in establishing eDNA as an effective research and monitoring tool.
Community and trophic dynamics - Communities include a wide range of mutualistic, antagonistic and predatory interactions, which are naturally impacted by climate change. Assessing the effects of biotic interactions is difficult to observe in nature due to the limited time species interact with each other compared to the time needed to observed each interaction. DNA based tools offer a way to identify trace remains of DNA fragments left behind that can provide insights into trophic and community interactions. Networks provide important information regarding the generality of the community dynamics and provide insights into large-scale patterns, but are traditionally limited to visually identified data. Combined with large scale forensic eDNA ecological data the eDNA and environmental ecology group looks address gaps in our understanding of trophic interactions and their subsequent link to environmental sustainability and human health.
Conservation and biodiversity assessment - A major challenge for the 21st century is ensuring natural resources are well managed for current and future generations. Increased awareness of the negative impacts of human interactions, paired with continued technological development and budgetary constraints, calls for a practical reassessment of how we implement environmental regulation and the strengthening of links between assessment methods and underlying ecological principles. Traditional biomonitoring protocols rely heavily on identification of organisms by skilled analysts and can be time and resource intensive if a centralized identification database is not used to cross reference variants. Alternatively, utilizing a molecular based sampling and taxonomic assignment protocol that relies on a centralized taxon database and computer assignment may allow for a standardized biomonitoring protocol as well as furthering the scope and depth of the indicator groups used to associate pollution or environmental perturbation, thereby allowing finer scale assessment of any environmental changes that have occurred at target sites. Such an approach is particularly critical for assessing and managing Hong Kong biodiversity.