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PeerJ. 2018 Mar 6;6:e4486. doi: 10.7717/peerj.4486. eCollection 2018.

Environmental DNA for freshwater fish monitoring: insights for conservation within a protected area.

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Department of Functional Biology, University of Oviedo, Oviedo, Asturias, Spain.
Sorbonne Université, Station Biologique de Roscoff, UMR7144, Roscoff, France.
Tighe & Bond, Trout Unlimited, USA.
Scientific-technical services, University of Oviedo, Oviedo, Asturias, Spain.



Many fish species have been introduced in wild ecosystems around the world to provide food or leisure, deliberately or from farm escapes. Some of those introductions have had large ecological effects. The north American native rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss Walbaum, 1792) is one of the most widely farmed fish species in the world. It was first introduced in Spain in the late 19th century for sport fishing (Elvira 1995) and nowadays is used there for both fishing and aquaculture. On the other hand, the European native brown trout (Salmo trutta L.) is catalogued as vulnerable in Spain. Detecting native and invasive fish populations in ecosystem monitoring is crucial, but it may be difficult from conventional sampling methods such as electrofishing. These techniques encompass some mortality, thus are not adequate for some ecosystems as the case of protected areas. Environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis is a sensitive and non-invasive method that can be especially useful for rare and low-density species detection and inventory in water bodies.


In this study we employed two eDNA based methods (qPCR and nested PCR-RFLP) to detect salmonid species from mountain streams within a protected area, The Biosphere Reserve and Natural Park of Redes (Upper Nalón Basin, Asturias, Northern Spain), where brown trout is the only native salmonid. We also measured some habitat variables to see how appropriate for salmonids the area is. The sampling area is located upstream impassable dams and contains one rainbow trout fish farm.


Employing qPCR methodology, brown trout eDNA was detected in all the nine sampling sites surveyed, while nested PCR-RFLP method failed to detect it in two sampling points. Rainbow trout eDNA was detected with both techniques at all sites in the Nalón River' (n1, n2 and n3). Salmonid habitat units and water quality were high from the area studied.


In this study, a high quantity of rainbow trout eDNA was found upstream and downstream of a fish farm located inside a Biosphere Reserve. Unreported escapes from the fish farm are a likely explanation of these results. Since salmonid habitat is abundant and the water quality high, the establishment of rainbow trout populations would be favored should escapes occur. Environmental DNA has here proved to be a valuable tool for species detection in freshwater environments, and the probe-based qPCR highly sensitive technique for detection of scarce species. We would recommend this method for routine monitoring and early detection of introduced species within natural reserves.


Environmental DNA; Genetics; Oncorhynchus mykiss; PCR-RFLP; Protected areas; River; Salmo trutta; qPCR

Conflict of interest statement

Paul G. Beaulieu is an employee of Tighe & Bond, Trout Unlimited.

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