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    Identifying spawning sites and other critical habitat in lotic systems using eDNA “snapshots”: A case study using the sea lamprey Petromyzon marinus L.
    Many aquatic species of conservation concern exist at low densities and are inherently difficult to detect or monitor using conventional methods. However, the introduction of environmental (e)DNA has recently transformed our ability to detect these species and enables effective deployment of limited conservation resources. Identifying areas for breeding, as well as the ecological distribution of species, is vital to the survival or recovery of a conservation species (i.e., areas of critical habitat). In many species, spawning events are associated with a higher relative abundance of DNA released within an aquatic system (i.e., gametes, skin cells etc.), making this the ideal time to monitor these species using eDNA techniques. This study aims to examine whether a “snapshot” eDNA sampling approach (i.e., samples taken at fixed points in chronological time) could reveal areas of critical habitat including spawning sites for our target species Petromyzon marinus. We utilized a species‐specific qPCR assay to monitor spatial and temporal patterns in eDNA concentration within two river catchments in Ireland over three consecutive years. We found that eDNA concentration increased at the onset of observed spawning activity and patterns of concentration increased from downstream to upstream over time, suggesting dispersal into the higher reaches as the spawning season progressed. We found P. marinus to be present upstream of several potential barriers to migration, sometimes in significant numbers. Our results also show that the addition of a lamprey‐specific fish pass at an “impassable” weir, although assisting in ascent, did not have any significant impact on eDNA concentration upstream after the pass had been installed. eDNA concentration was also found to be significantly correlated with both the number of fish and the number of nests encountered. The application of snapshot sampling techniques for species monitoring therefore has substantial potential for the management of low‐density species in fast‐moving aquatic systems.
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