Assessment of environmental DNA for detecting presence of imperiled aquatic amphibian species in isolated wetlands

Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management
By: , and 



Environmental DNA (eDNA) is an emerging tool that allows low-impact sampling for aquatic species by isolating DNA from water samples and screening for DNA sequences specific to species of interest. However, researchers have not tested this method in naturally acidic wetlands that provide breeding habitat for a number of imperiled species, including the frosted salamander (Ambystoma cingulatum), reticulated flatwoods salamanders (Ambystoma bishopi), striped newt (Notophthalmus perstriatus), and gopher frog (Lithobates capito). Our objectives for this study were to develop and optimize eDNA survey protocols and assays to complement and enhance capture-based survey methods for these amphibian species. We collected three or more water samples, dipnetted or trapped larval and adult amphibians, and conducted visual encounter surveys for egg masses for target species at 40 sites on 12 different longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) tracts. We used quantitative PCRs to screen eDNA from each site for target species presence. We detected flatwoods salamanders at three sites with eDNA but did not detect them during physical surveys. Based on the sample location we assumed these eDNA detections to indicate the presence of frosted flatwoods salamanders. We did not detect reticulated flatwoods salamanders. We detected striped newts with physical and eDNA surveys at two wetlands. We detected gopher frogs at 12 sites total, three with eDNA alone, two with physical surveys alone, and seven with physical and eDNA surveys. We detected our target species with eDNA at 9 of 11 sites where they were present as indicated from traditional surveys and at six sites where they were not detected with traditional surveys. It was, however, critical to use at least three water samples per site for eDNA. Our results demonstrate eDNA surveys can be a useful complement to traditional survey methods for detecting imperiled pond-breeding amphibians. Environmental DNA may be particularly useful in situations where detection probability using traditional survey methods is low or access by trained personnel is limited.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Assessment of environmental DNA for detecting presence of imperiled aquatic amphibian species in isolated wetlands
Series title Journal of Fish and Wildlife Management
DOI 10.3996/042014-JFWM-034
Volume 6
Issue 2
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher Scientific Journals
Contributing office(s) South Atlantic Water Science Center, Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Description 13 p.
First page 498
Last page 510
Country United States
State Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina
County Irwin County
Other Geospatial Apalachicola National Forest, Fall Line Sandhills Wildlife Management Area, Fort Benning, Fort Stewart, Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center at Ichauway, Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge, Mayhaw Wildlife Management Area, Ohoopee Dunes Natural Area, Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, Williams Bluff Preserve
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Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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