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Environmental DNA is effective in detecting the federally threatened Louisiana Pinesnake ( Pituophis ruthveni)

Katz, AD, Harper, LR, Sternhagen, EC, Pearce, SE, Melder, CA, Sperry, JH and Davis, MA (2020) Environmental DNA is effective in detecting the federally threatened Louisiana Pinesnake ( Pituophis ruthveni). Environmental DNA. ISSN 2637-4943

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Abstract

Successful conservation of rare, threatened, or endangered (RTE) species is dependent upon rapid and accurate assessment of their distribution and abundance. However, assessments are challenging as RTE species typically exist as numerically small populations in often fragmented habitats and can possess complex natural histories. Environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis may provide a rapid, cost‐effective means of assessing RTE species presence/absence in viable habitat patches. We evaluated the efficacy of eDNA surveillance for the Louisiana Pinesnake (Pituophis ruthveni), an elusive, semi‐fossorial, nonvenomous colubroid snake endemic to Louisiana and Texas, USA, that has dramatically declined in both distribution and abundance. We developed two quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assays that target the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I (COI) and mitochondrially encoded ATP synthase membrane subunit 6 (ATP6) genes. We validated each assay in silico, in vitro, and in situ, and investigated the influence of eDNA extraction method and genetic marker on assay performance. Both assays were highly sensitive and successfully detected the Louisiana Pinesnake under artificial and field conditions, including bedding samples collected from captive snake enclosures (100%), soil samples from Louisiana Pinesnake release sites (100%), and soil samples from sites where Louisiana Pinesnakes were documented via radio telemetry (45%). Although differences between genetic markers were negligible, assay performance was strongly influenced by eDNA extraction method. Informed by our results, we discuss methodological and environmental factors influencing Louisiana Pinesnake eDNA detection and quantification, broader implications for management and conservation of the Louisiana Pinesnake and other terrestrial reptiles and provide recommendations for future research. We suggest that eDNA surveys can more effectively assess Louisiana Pinesnake occupancy than conventional sampling, highlighting the need for comprehensive eDNA monitoring initiatives to better identify suitable habitat that will promote persistence of this imperiled species going forward.

Item Type: Article
Subjects: Q Science > QH Natural history
Q Science > QH Natural history > QH426 Genetics
Q Science > QL Zoology
Divisions: Biological & Environmental Sciences (new Sep 19)
Publisher: Wiley
Date Deposited: 15 Feb 2021 11:26
Last Modified: 15 Feb 2021 11:30
DOI or Identification number: 10.1002/edn3.126
URI: https://researchonline.ljmu.ac.uk/id/eprint/14454

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