Does mesocosm validation of environmental DNA methods translate to natural environment monitoring applications? A case study detecting a high-profile invader; the red eared slider turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans, in Australia

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Abstract

Environmental DNA (eDNA) surveys have gained popularity as a highly sensitive detection tool that generally outperform traditional detection techniques. eDNA surveys can provide a cost-effective means to identify species’ distributions and recent incursions, informing the control or containment of invasive species. The red-eared slider turtle, Trachemys scripta elegans, is one of the world’s most invasive species and is listed as a priority pest species for management in Australia. In this study, we validate two eDNA assays to detect this invasive turtle in Australia. We demonstrate high sensitivity in a laboratory setting and perfect detection rates in mesocosms for one of these eDNA assays but show that this does not translate to high detection rates in urban waterbodies at sites of known occupancy. In fact, our results suggest eDNA surveys provide sub-optimal performance compared to traditional detection methods for T.s. elegans. We suggest the capacity for eDNA surveys to provide a highly sensitive detection tool must be evaluated in natural environments on a species-by-species basis to understand any limitations and to avoid high error rates from eDNA surveys leading to wasted resources or inappropriate management decisions. For management of T.s. elegans in Australia, clearly defining the utility of certain eDNA based approaches to detect T.s. elegans and their incursions is vital for effective management of this pest species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-71
Number of pages9
JournalConservation Genetics Resources
Volume16
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

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