Quantification of Environmental DNA (eDNA) Shedding and Decay Rates for Three Marine Fish

Environ Sci Technol. 2016 Oct 4;50(19):10456-10464. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.6b03114. Epub 2016 Sep 15.


Analysis of environmental DNA (eDNA) to identify macroorganisms and biodiversity has the potential to significantly augment spatial and temporal biological monitoring in aquatic ecosystems. Current monitoring methods relying on the physical identification of organisms can be time consuming, expensive, and invasive. Measuring eDNA shed from organisms provides detailed information on the presence and abundance of communities of organisms. However, little is known about eDNA shedding and decay in aquatic environments. In the present study, we designed novel Taqman qPCR assays for three ecologically and economically important marine fish-Engraulis mordax (Northern Anchovy), Sardinops sagax (Pacific Sardine), and Scomber japonicas (Pacific Chub Mackerel). We subsequently measured fish eDNA shedding and decay rates in seawater mesocosms. eDNA shedding rates ranged from 165 to 3368 pg of DNA per hour per gram of biomass. First-order decay rate constants ranged from 0.055 to 0.101 per hour. We also examined the size fractionation of eDNA and concluded eDNA is both intra- and extracellular. Finally, we derived a simple mass-balance model to estimate fish abundance from eDNA concentration. The mesocosm-derived shedding and decay rates inform the interpretation of eDNA concentrations measured in environmental samples and future use of eDNA as a monitoring tool.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Biomass
  • DNA
  • Ecosystem*
  • Fishes / genetics*


  • DNA