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Metabarcoding of environmental DNA samples to explore the use of uranium mine containment ponds as a water source for wildlife

December 1, 2017

Understanding how anthropogenic impacts on the landscape affect wildlife requires a knowledge of community assemblages. Species surveys are the first step in assessing community structure, and recent molecular applications such as metabarcoding and environmental DNA analyses have been proposed as an additional and complementary wildlife survey method. Here, we test eDNA metabarcoding as a survey tool to examine the potential use of uranium mine containment ponds as water sources by wildlife. We tested samples from surface water near mines and from one mine containment pond using two markers, 12S and 16S rRNA gene amplicons, to survey for vertebrate species. We recovered large numbers of sequence reads from taxa expected to be in the area and from less common or hard to observe taxa such as the tiger salamander and gray fox. Detection of these two species is of note because they were not observed in a previous species assessment, and tiger salamander DNA was found in the mine containment pond sample. We also found that sample concentration by centrifugation was a more efficient and more feasible method than filtration in these highly turbid surface waters. Ultimately, the use of eDNA metabarcoding could allow for a better understanding of the area’s overall biodiversity and community composition as well as aid current ecotoxicological risk assessment work.