Does size matter? An experimental evaluation of the relative abundance and decay rates of aquatic eDNA

Jonas Bylemans, Elise M. Furlan, Dianne M. Gleeson, Christopher M. Hardy, Richard P. Duncan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Citations (Scopus)


Environmental DNA (eDNA) is increasingly used to monitor aquatic macrofauna. Typically, short mitochondrial DNA fragments are targeted because these should be relatively more abundant in the environment as longer fragments will break into smaller fragments over time. However, longer fragments may permit more flexible primer design and increase taxonomic resolution for eDNA metabarcoding analyses, and recent studies have shown that long mitochondrial eDNA fragments can be extracted from environmental water samples. Nuclear eDNA fragments have also been proposed as targets, but little is known about their persistence in the aquatic environment. Here we measure the abundance of mitochondrial eDNA fragments of different lengths and of short nuclear eDNA fragments, originating from captive fish in experimental tanks, and we test whether longer mitochondrial and short nuclear fragments decay faster than short mitochondrial fragments following fish removal. We show that when fish are present, shorter mitochondrial fragments are more abundant in water samples than both longer mitochondrial fragments and short nuclear eDNA fragments. However, the rate of decay following fish removal was similar for all fragment types, suggesting that the differences in abundance resulted from differences in the rates at which different fragment types were produced rather than differences in their decay rates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)6408-6416
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 5 Jun 2018


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