Skip to main content
Dryad logo

Large scale eDNA monitoring of multiple aquatic pathogens as a tool to provide risk maps for wildlife diseases


Sieber, Natalie et al. (2022), Large scale eDNA monitoring of multiple aquatic pathogens as a tool to provide risk maps for wildlife diseases, Dryad, Dataset,


Multiple parasites and pathogens cause disease in aquatic wildlife and in aquaculture species, generating a need for monitoring and management. Conventional disease monitoring methods involve laborious, costly and invasive capture and examination of host species, and require specialised expertise for every host and pathogen of interest. These restrictions could be alleviated by using pathogen detection techniques based on environmental DNA that provide simultaneous surveys of multiple aquatic pathogens across different host taxa. This would also be valuable for approaches employing parasite diversity as bioindicators of ecosystem disturbance, which suffer from similar restrictions. Here, we tested the potential for simultaneous detection of four wildlife pathogens in water samples from 280, mainly riverine, sites across Switzerland. We targeted the crayfish pathogen Aphanomyces astaci, the amphibian pathogen Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis, and the fish pathogens Saprolegnia parasitica and Tetracapsuloides bryosalmonae. The eDNA detection showed a widespread distribution of A. astaciS. parasitica and T. bryosalmonae, although A. astaci and T. bryosalmonae were not detected in some alpine river catchments. B. dendrobatidis was detected only rarely, which was expected since the sampling did not target amphibian breeding sites. Co-detection rates were higher in rivers than in lakes, likely reflecting the habitat preferences and distributions of the host species. We discuss the advantages and limitations of eDNA-based pathogen monitoring and list a set of recommendations for managers. Our study illustrates how eDNA-based techniques can monitor several pathogen species concurrently, thus facilitating more comprehensive disease monitoring schemes. Combined with metabarcoding approaches in the future, eDNA based sampling and detection can facilitate the incorporation of parasite and pathogen occurrence and diversity as an indicator for aquatic ecosystem health, and for revealing the hidden biodiversity and structure of parasite communities.