Seasonal variability in the persistence of dissolved environmental DNA (eDNA) in a marine system: The role of microbial nutrient limitation

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Environmental DNA (eDNA) can be defined as the DNA pool recovered from an environmental sample that includes both extracellular and intracellular DNA. There has been a significant increase in the number of recent studies that have demonstrated the possibility to detect macroorganisms using eDNA. Despite the enormous potential of eDNA to serve as a biomonitoring and conservation tool in aquatic systems, there remain some important limitations concerning its application. One significant factor is the variable persistence of eDNA
over natural environmental gradients, which imposes a critical constraint on the temporal and spatial scales of species detection. In the present study, a radiotracer bioassay approach was used to quantify the kinetic parameters of dissolved eDNA (d-eDNA), a component of extracellular DNA, over an annual cycle in the coastal Northwest Mediterranean. Significant seasonal variability in the biological uptake and turnover of d-eDNA was observed, the latter ranging from several hours to over one month. Maximum uptake rates of d-eDNA occurred in summer during a period of intense phosphate limitation (turnover hrs). Corresponding increases in bacterial production and uptake of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) demonstrated the microbial utilization of d-eDNA as an organic phosphorus substrate. Higher temperatures during summer may amplify this effect through a general enhancement of microbial metabolism. A partial least squares regression (PLSR) model was able to reproduce the seasonal cycle in d-eDNA persistence and explained 60% of the variance in the observations. Rapid phosphate turnover and low concentrations of bioavailable phosphate, both indicative of phosphate limitation, were the most important parameters
in the model. Abiotic factors such as pH, salinity and oxygen exerted minimal influence. The present study demonstrates significant seasonal variability in the persistence of d-eDNA in a natural marine environment that can be linked to the metabolic response of microbial communities to nutrient limitation. Future studies should consider the effect of natural environmental gradients on the seasonal persistence of eDNA, which will be of particular relevance for time-series biomonitoring programs
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0192409
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalPloS one
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 23 Feb 2018


  • eDNA
  • marine systems
  • microbial nutrient limitation
  • environmental DNA


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