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Integrating environmental DNA results with diverse data sets to improve biosurveillance of river health

March 16, 2021

Autonomous, robotic environmental (e)DNA samplers now make it possible for biological observations to match the scale and quality of abiotic measurements collected by automated sensor networks. Merging these automated data streams may allow for improved insight into biotic responses to environmental change and stressors. Here, we merged eDNA data collected by robotic samplers installed at three U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) streamgages with gridded daily weather data, and daily water quality and quantity data into a cloud-hosted database. The eDNA targets were a rare fish parasite and a more common salmonid fish. We then used computationally expedient Bayesian hierarchical occupancy models to evaluate associations between abiotic conditions and eDNA detections and to simulate how uncertainty in result interpretation changes with the frequency of autonomous robotic eDNA sample collection. We developed scripts to automate data merging, cleaning and analysis steps into a chained-step, workflow. We found that inclusion of abiotic covariates only provided improved insight for the more common salmonid fish since its DNA was more frequently detected. Rare fish parasite DNA was infrequently detected, which caused occupancy parameter estimates and covariate associations to have high uncertainty. Our simulations found that collecting samples at least once per day resulted in more detections and less parameter uncertainty than less frequent sampling. Our occupancy and simulation results together demonstrate the advantages of robotic eDNA samplers and how these samples can be combined with easy to acquire, publicly available data to foster real-time biosurveillance and forecasting.