Using eDNA to Detect the Distribution and Density of Invasive Crayfish in the Honghe-Hani Rice Terrace World Heritage Site
The Honghe-Hani landscape in China is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site due to the beauty of its thousands of rice terraces, but these structures are in danger from the invasive crayfish Procambarus clarkii. Crayfish dig nest holes, which collapse terrace walls and destroy rice production. Under the current control strategy, farmers self-report crayfish and are issued pesticide, but this strategy is not expected to eradicate the crayfish nor to prevent their spread since farmers are not able to detect small numbers of crayfish. Thus, we tested whether environmental DNA (eDNA) from paddy-water samples could provide a sensitive detection method. In a mesocosm experiment, Real-time Quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) successfully detected crayfish, even at a simulated density of one crayfish per average-sized paddy (with one false negative). In a field test, we tested eDNA and bottle traps against direct counts of crayfish. eDNA successfully detected crayfish in all 25 paddies where crayfish were observed and in none of the 7 paddies where crayfish were absent. Bottle-trapping was successful in only 68% of the crayfish-present paddies. eDNA concentrations also correlated positively with crayfish counts. In sum, these results suggest that single samples of eDNA are able to detect small crayfish populations, but not perfectly. Thus, we conclude that a program of repeated eDNA sampling is now feasible and likely reliable for measuring crayfish geographic range and for detecting new invasion fronts in the Honghe Hani landscape, which would inform regional control efforts and help to prevent the further spread of this invasive crayfish.
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