A sensitive environmental DNA (eDNA) assay leads to new insights on Ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua) spread in North America

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Abstract

Detection of invasive species before or soon after they establish in novel environments is critical to prevent widespread ecological and economic impacts. Environmental DNA (eDNA) surveillance and monitoring is an approach to improve early detection efforts. Here we describe a large-scale conservation application of a quantitative polymerase chain reaction assay with a case study for surveillance of a federally listed nuisance species (Ruffe, Gymnocephalus cernua) in the Laurentian Great Lakes. Using current Ruffe distribution data and predictions of future Ruffe spread derived from a recently developed model of ballast-mediated dispersal in US waters of the Great Lakes, we designed an eDNA surveillance study to target Ruffe at the putative leading edge of the invasion. We report a much more advanced invasion front for Ruffe than has been indicated by conventional surveillance methods and we quantify rates of false negative detections (i.e. failure to detect DNA when it is present in a sample). Our results highlight the important role of eDNA surveillance as a sensitive tool to improve early detection efforts for aquatic invasive species and draw attention to the need for an improved understanding of detection errors. Based on axes that reflect the weight of eDNA evidence of species presence and the likelihood of secondary spread, we suggest a two-dimensional conceptual model that management agencies might find useful in considering responses to eDNA detections.

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Tucker, A. J., Chadderton, W. L., Jerde, C. L., Renshaw, M. A., Uy, K., Gantz, C., … Lodge, D. M. (2016). A sensitive environmental DNA (eDNA) assay leads to new insights on Ruffe (Gymnocephalus cernua) spread in North America. Biological Invasions, 18(11), 3205–3222. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-016-1209-z

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