The relationship between eDNA particle concentration and organism abundance in nature is strengthened by allometric scaling

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Abstract

Organism abundance is a critical parameter in ecology, but its estimation is often challenging. Approaches utilizing eDNA to indirectly estimate abundance have recently generated substantial interest. However, preliminary correlations observed between eDNA concentration and abundance in nature are typically moderate in strength with significant unexplained variation. Here, we apply a novel approach to integrate allometric scaling coefficients into models of eDNA concentration and organism abundance. We hypothesize that eDNA particle production scales nonlinearly with mass, with scaling coefficients < 1. Wild populations often exhibit substantial variation in individual body size distributions; we therefore predict that the distribution of mass across individuals within a population will influence population-level eDNA production rates. To test our hypothesis, we collected standardized body size distribution and mark–recapture abundance data using whole-lake experiments involving nine populations of brook trout. We correlated eDNA concentration with three metrics of abundance: density (individuals/ha), biomass (kg/ha) and allometrically scaled mass (ASM) (∑(individual mass0.73)/ha). Density and biomass were both significantly positively correlated with eDNA concentration (adj. r2 = 0.59 and 0.63, respectively), but ASM exhibited improved model fit (adj. r2 = 0.78). We also demonstrate how estimates of ASM derived from eDNA samples in "unknown" systems can be converted to biomass or density estimates with additional size-structure data. Future experiments should empirically validate allometric scaling coefficients for eDNA production, particularly where substantial intraspecific size distribution variation exists. Incorporating allometric scaling may improve predictive models to the extent that eDNA concentration may become a reliable indicator of abundance in nature.

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Yates, M. C., Glaser, D. M., Post, J. R., Cristescu, M. E., Fraser, D. J., & Derry, A. M. (2021). The relationship between eDNA particle concentration and organism abundance in nature is strengthened by allometric scaling. In Molecular Ecology (Vol. 30, pp. 3068–3082). John Wiley and Sons Inc. https://doi.org/10.1111/mec.15543

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