Considering the harmful and irreversible consequences of many biological invasions, early detection of an invasive species is an important step toward protecting ecosystems (Sepulveda et al. 2012). Early detection increases the probability that suppression or eradication efforts will be successful because invasive populations are small and localized (Vander Zanden et al. 2010). However, most invasive species are not detected early because current tools have low detection probabilities when target species are rare and the sampling effort required to achieve acceptable detection capabilities with current tools is seldom tractable (Jerde et al. 2011). As a result, many invasive species go undetected until they are abundant and suppression efforts become costly.
Novel DNA-based surveillance tools have recently revolutionized early detection abilities using environmental DNA (eDNA) present in the water (Darling and Mahon 2011, Bohmann et al. 2014). In brief, eDNA monitoring enables the identification of organisms from DNA present and collected in water samples. Aquatic and semiaquatic organisms release DNA contained in sloughed, damaged, or partially decomposed tissue and waste products into the water and molecular techniques allow this eDNA in the water column to be identified from simple and easy-tocollect water samples (Darling and Mahon 2011). Despite limited understanding of the production, persistence, and spread of DNA in water (Barnes et al. 2014), eDNA monitoring has been applied not only to invasive species (Jerde et al. 2011), but also to species that are rare, endangered, or highly elusive (Spear et al. 2014). However, most eDNA research and monitoring has focused on detection of invertebrates and vertebrates and less attentionhas been given to developing eDNA techniques for detecting aquatic invasive plants.
Eurasian watermilfoil (EWM; Myriophyllum spicatum L.) is an invasive species for which improved early detection would be particularly helpful. Advanced EWM invasions have negative impacts on native biodiversity, recreational boating, fishing, and other types of aquatic tourism (e.g., Eiswerth et al. 2000). On a broader scale, EWM can also be harmful to man-made aquatic infrastructure, such as hydroelectric dams. If an EWM invasion can be detected in an early stage where eradication is still a possibility, many of these negative consequences can be limited or prevented altogether (e.g., Madsen et al. 2002).
The purpose of this research was to develop and validate a traditional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assay for the detection of pure and hybridized EWM DNA using both laboratory and field experiments. We performed a pilot experiment in outdoor tanks to determine the basic functionality and sensitivity of the assay. Following this initial test, we collected field samples from Michigan and Montana lakes with and without known EWM populations. Taken together, our findings suggest that eDNA techniques have potential to be a useful strategy for the early detection of EWM.