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Surveys of environmental DNA (eDNA): a new approach to estimate occurrence in Vulnerable manatee populations

April 19, 2018

Environmental DNA (eDNA) detection is a technique used to non-invasively detect cryptic, low density, or logistically difficult-to-study species, such as imperiled manatees. For eDNA measurement, genetic material shed into the environment is concentrated from water samples and analyzed for the presence of target species. Cytochrome bquantitative PCR and droplet digital PCR eDNA assays were developed for the 3 Vulnerable manatee species: African, Amazonian, and both subspecies of the West Indian (Florida and Antillean) manatee. Environmental DNA assays can help to delineate manatee habitat ranges, high use areas, and seasonal population changes. To validate the assay, water was analyzed from Florida’s east coast containing a high-density manatee population and produced 31564 DNA molecules l-1on average and high occurrence (ψ) and detection (p) estimates (ψ = 0.84 [0.40-0.99]; p = 0.99 [0.95-1.00]; limit of detection 3 copies µl-1). Similar occupancy estimates were produced in the Florida Panhandle (ψ = 0.79 [0.54-0.97]) and Cuba (ψ = 0.89 [0.54-1.00]), while occupancy estimates in Cameroon were lower (ψ = 0.49 [0.09-0.95]). The eDNA-derived detection estimates were higher than those generated using aerial survey data on the west coast of Florida and may be effective for population monitoring. Subsequent eDNA studies could be particularly useful in locations where manatees are (1) difficult to identify visually (e.g. the Amazon River and Africa), (2) are present in patchy distributions or are on the verge of extinction (e.g. Jamaica, Haiti), and (3) where repatriation efforts are proposed (e.g. Brazil, Guadeloupe). Extension of these eDNA techniques could be applied to other imperiled marine mammal populations such as African and Asian dugongs.

Publication Year 2018
Title Surveys of environmental DNA (eDNA): a new approach to estimate occurrence in Vulnerable manatee populations
DOI 10.3354/esr00880
Authors Margaret Hunter, Gaia Meigs-Friend, Jason A. Ferrante, Aristide Takoukam Kamla, Robert Dorazio, Lucy Keith Diagne, Fabia Luna, Janet M. Lanyon, James P. Reid
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Endangered Species Research
Index ID 70196591
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Wetland and Aquatic Research Center