• Seasonality, DNA degradation and spatial heterogeneity as drivers of eDNA detection dynamics

      Troth, Christopher R.; Sweet, Michael J.; Nightingale, Jen; Burian, Alfred; University of Derby; SureScreen Scientifics Ltd, Morley; Bristol Zoological Society, Clifton, Bristol; University of Bristol; Lurio University, Nampula, Mozambique (Elsevier, 2021-01-06)
      In recent years, eDNA-based assessments have evolved as valuable tools for research and conservation. Most eDNA-based applications rely on comparisons across time or space. However, temporal, and spatial dynamics of eDNA concentrations are shaped by various drivers that can affect the reliability of such comparative approaches. Here, we assessed (i) seasonal variability, (ii) degradation rates and (iii) micro-habitat heterogeneity of eDNA concentrations as key factors likely to inflict uncertainty in across site and time comparisons. In a controlled mesocosm experiment, using the white-clawed crayfish as a model organism, we found detection probabilities of technical replicates to vary substantially and range from as little as 20 to upwards of 80% between seasons. Further, degradation rates of crayfish eDNA were low and target eDNA was still detectable 14–21 days after the removal of crayfish. Finally, we recorded substantial small-scale in-situ heterogeneity and large variability among sampling sites in a single pond of merely 1000m2 in size. Consequently, all three tested drivers of spatial and temporal variation have the potential to severely impact the reliability of eDNA-based site comparisons and need to be accounted for in sampling design and data analysis of field-based applications.