Environmental DNA Detection of Aquatic Invasive Plants in Lab Mesocosm and Natural Field Conditions

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Biological Invasions

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Aquatic invasive plant species cause negative impacts to economies and ecosystems worldwide. Traditional survey methods, while necessary, often do not result in timely detections of aquatic invaders, which can be cryptic, difficult to identify, and exhibit very rapid growth and reproduction rates. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is a relatively new method that has been used to detect multiple types of animals in freshwater and marine ecosystems through tissues naturally shed from the organism into the water column or sediment. While eDNA detection has proven highly effective in the detection of aquatic animals, we know less about the efficacy of eDNA as an effective surveillance tool for aquatic plants. To address this disparity, we designed mesocosm experiments with Elodea species to determine the ability to detect accumulation and degradation of the DNA signal for aquatic plants, followed by field surveillance of the highly invasive Hydrilla verticillata in freshwaters across several U.S. geographic regions. In both lab and field experiments, we designed a high sensitivity quantitative PCR assay to detect the aquatic plant species. In both experiments, plant eDNA detection was successful; we saw accumulation of DNA when plants were introduced to tanks and a decrease in DNA over time after plants were removed. We detected eDNA in the field in areas of known Hydrilla distribution. Employing eDNA detection for aquatic plants will strengthen efforts for early detection and rapid response of invaders in global freshwater ecosystems.


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