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Integration of eDNA-based biological monitoring within the US Geological Survey’s national streamgage network

September 30, 2019

This study explores the feasibility and utility of integrating environmental DNA (eDNA) assessments of species occurrences into the United States (U.S.) Geological Survey’s national streamgage network. We used an existing network of five gages in southwest Idaho to explore the type of information that could be gained as well as the associated costs and limitations. Hydrologic technicians were trained in eDNA sampling protocols and they collected samples during routine monthly visits to streamgages over an entire water year (2016). We analyzed the eDNA in the filtered water samples to determine the presence of two fish species: bull trout and rainbow trout. We then modeled the spatiotemporal distribution of each species using discharge and temperature data. To assess the influence of the spatial distribution of the gages on the biological information obtained, we also collected eDNA samples from locations between the gages three times during the water year. We found eDNA monitoring at the five gages provided meaningful information about the distribution of both species, especially when detection probabilities accounted for variations in temperature and discharge. Sampling between the gages provided additional information about bull trout distribution — the rarer of the two species. Our study suggests the integration of eDNA sampling into a streamgage network is feasible and could provide a novel and powerful source of biological information for riverine ecosystems in the U.S.