An Environmental DNA Tool For Monitoring the Status of the Critically Endangered Smalltooth Sawfish, Pristis pectinata, In the Western Atlantic

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Biological Sciences


Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


The Critically Endangered Smalltooth Sawfish, Pristis pectinata, was once widespread in the tropical and subtropical waters of the Atlantic Ocean, but following substantial declines over the past century, the remaining population(s) are currently confined to Florida in the U.S., and the Bahamas. Recent research and verified public encounter reports suggest that the core population in south and southwest Florida may be stabilizing and potentially expanding into formerly occupied areas of their historic range in the western Atlantic; however, the status of this species outside of core waters is not well understood. Environmental DNA (eDNA) methods provide a relatively cost effective and rapid assessment tool for monitoring species occurrence in aquatic habitats. Here, we have developed an eDNA tool: a species-specific Droplet Digital™ PCR assay targeting a 100-base pair portion of the mitochondrial NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 gene in P. pectinata, with the ability to reliably detect as little as 0.25 pg of target DNA. The assay was validated by analyzing a water sample from an occupied nursery in southwest Florida, which was found to contain an average of 11.54 copies of target DNA/µL (SE = 0.72) in the reaction. The assay was then further tested by placing a juvenile sawfish in an ex situ tank and analyzing water samples collected at time intervals. The implementation of this eDNA tool into field surveys will provide additional, reliable data to assess species recovery and aid in prioritizing localities in which to focus new research, conservation, and education initiatives.



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Conservation Genetics Resources



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