Experimental observations on the decay of environmental DNA from bighead and silver carps

Management of Biological Invasions
By: , and 



Interest in the field of environmental DNA (eDNA) is growing rapidly and eDNA surveys are becoming an important consideration for aquatic resource managers dealing with invasive species. However, in order for eDNA monitoring to mature as a research and management tool, there are several critical knowledge gaps that must be filled. One such gap is the fate of eDNA materials in the aquatic environment. Understanding the environmental factors that influence the decay of eDNA and how these factors impact detection probabilities over time and space could have significant implications for eDNA survey design and data interpretation. Here we experimentally explore decay of eDNA associated with bighead carp (Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) biological waste collected from an aquaculture filtration system and with sperm collected from captive silver carp (H. molitrix), and how decay may be influenced by differing levels of water turbulence, temperature, microbial load, and pH. We found that the decay patterns of eDNA associated with both H. nobilis biological waste and H. molitrix milt significantly fit monophasic exponential decay curves. Secondly, we observed that the highest temperature we tested resulted in a decay half-life as much as 5.5× more rapid than the lowest temperature we tested. When we suppressed microbial loads in eDNA samples, we observed that overall losses of eDNA were reduced by about 2.5×. When we amended eDNA samples with pond water the half-life of eDNA was reduced by about 2.25×, despite relatively little apparent increase in the overall microbial load. This pattern indicated that species constituency of the microbial community, in addition to microbial load, might play a critical role in eDNA degradation. A shift in pH from 6.5 to 8.0 in the samples resulted in a 1.6× reduction in eDNA halflife. Water turbulence in our study had no apparent effect on eDNA decay. When we combined different temperature, pH, and microbial load treatments to create a rapid decay condition and a slow decay condition, and tracked eDNA decay over 91 days, we observed a 5.0× greater loss of eDNA by Day 5 under rapid decay conditions than under slow decay conditions. At the end of the trials, the differences in eDNA loss between the rapid decay and baseline and slow decay conditions were 0.1× and 3.3×, respectively. Our results strongly demonstrate the potential for environmental factors to influence eDNA fate and, thus, the interpretation of eDNA survey results.

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Experimental observations on the decay of environmental DNA from bighead and silver carps
Series title Management of Biological Invasions
DOI 10.3391/mbi.2017.8.3.08
Volume 8
Issue 3
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher Regional Euro-Asian Biological Invasions Centre
Contributing office(s) Columbia Environmental Research Center
Description 17 p.
First page 343
Last page 359
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