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Potential of environmental DNA to evaluate Northern pike (Esox lucius) eradication efforts: An experimental test and case study

September 14, 2016

Determining the success of invasive species eradication efforts is challenging because populations at very low abundance are difficult to detect. Environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling has recently emerged as a powerful tool for detecting rare aquatic animals; however, detectable fragments of DNA can persist over time despite absence of the targeted taxa and can therefore complicate eDNA sampling after an eradication event. This complication is a large concern for fish eradication efforts in lakes since killed fish can sink to the bottom and slowly decay. DNA released from these carcasses may remain detectable for long periods. Here, we evaluated the efficacy of eDNA sampling to detect invasive Northern pike (Esox lucius) following piscicide eradication efforts in southcentral Alaskan lakes. We used field observations and experiments to test the sensitivity of our Northern pike eDNA assay and to evaluate the persistence of detectable DNA emitted from Northern pike carcasses. We then used eDNA sampling and traditional sampling (i.e., gillnets) to test for presence of Northern pike in four lakes subjected to a piscicide-treatment designed to eradicate this species. We found that our assay could detect an abundant, free-roaming population of Northern pike and could also detect low-densities of Northern pike held in cages. For these caged Northern pike, probability of detection decreased with distance from the cage. We then stocked three lakes with Northern pike carcasses and collected eDNA samples 7, 35 and 70 days post-stocking. We detected DNA at 7 and 35 days, but not at 70 days. Finally, we collected eDNA samples ~ 230 days after four lakes were subjected to piscicide-treatments and detected Northern pike DNA in 3 of 179 samples, with a single detection at each of three lakes, though we did not catch any Northern pike in gillnets. Taken together, we found that eDNA can help to inform eradication efforts if used in conjunction with multiple lines of inquiry and sampling is delayed long enough to allow full degradation of DNA in the water.

Publication Year 2016
Title Potential of environmental DNA to evaluate Northern pike (Esox lucius) eradication efforts: An experimental test and case study
DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0162277
Authors Kristine J. Dunker, Adam J. Sepulveda, Robert L. Massengill, Jeffrey B. Olsen, Ora L. Russ, John K. Wenburg, Anton Antonovich
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title PLoS ONE
Index ID 70176461
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Northern Rocky Mountain Science Center