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Leempoel K, Hebert T, Hadly EA. A comparison of eDNA to camera trapping for assessment of terrestrial mammal diversity. BioRxiv. 2019 Jan 1:634022.

Year Published: 2019

Environmental DNA (eDNA) is one of the most promising approaches to meet the demand for the fast and frequent monitoring of ecosystems needed to tackle the current decline in biodiversity. However, before eDNA can establish itself as a robust alternative for mammal monitoring, comparison with existing approaches is necessary, yet has not been done. Moreover, much is unknown regarding the nature, spread and persistence of DNA shed by animals into terrestrial environments, or the optimal experimental design for understanding these potential biases.

To address some of these challenges, we compared the detection of terrestrial mammals using eDNA analysis of soil samples against confirmed species observations from a long-term (∼9-yr) camera trapping study. At the same time, we considered multiple experimental parameters, including two sampling designs, two DNA extraction kits and two metabarcodes of different sizes.

All mammals consistently recorded with cameras were detected in eDNA. In addition, eDNA reported many small mammals not recorded by camera traps, but whose presence in the study area is otherwise documented. A long metabarcode (≈220bp) offering a high taxonomic resolution, achieved a similar efficiency as a shorter one (≈70bp) and a phosphate buffer-based extraction gave similar results as a total DNA extraction method for a fraction of the price. Our results support that eDNA-based monitoring should become a valuable part of terrestrial mammal surveys. Yet, the lack of coverage of mammal mitochondrial genomes in public databases must be addressed before eDNA can be used to its full potential. [link to publication]