Fishing for mammals: landscape-level monitoring of terrestrial and semi-aquatic communities using eDNA from riverine systems.
Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding has revolutionized biomonitoring in both marine and freshwater ecosystems. However, for semi-aquatic and terrestrial animals, the application of this technique remains relatively untested. We first assess the efficiency of eDNA metabarcoding in detecting semi-aquatic and terrestrial mammals in natural lotic ecosystems in the UK by comparing sequence data recovered from water and sediment samples to the mammalian communities expected from historical data. Secondly, using occupancy modelling we compared the detection efficiency of eDNA metabarcoding to multiple conventional non-invasive survey methods (latrine surveys and camera trapping). eDNA metabarcoding detected a large proportion of the expected mammalian community within each area. Common species in the areas were detected at the majority of sites. Several key species of conservation concern in the UK were detected by eDNA sampling in areas where authenticated records do not currently exist, but potential false positives were also identified. Water-based eDNA metabarcoding provided comparable results to conventional survey methods in per unit of survey effort for three species (water vole, field vole and red deer) using occupancy models. The comparison between survey 'effort' to reach a detection probability of ≥.95 revealed that 3-6 water replicates would be equivalent to 3-5 latrine surveys and 5-30 weeks of single camera deployment, depending on the species.