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

Endangered Species Research
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Abstract

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.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Surveys of environmental DNA (eDNA): a new approach to estimate occurrence in Vulnerable manatee populations
Series title Endangered Species Research
DOI 10.3354/esr00880
Volume 35
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Inter-Research
Contributing office(s) Wetland and Aquatic Research Center
Description 12 p.
First page 101
Last page 111