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Environmental DNA provides information on sediment sources: A study in catchments affected by Fukushima radioactive fallout

Evrard, Olivier, Laceby, J. Patrick, Ficetola, Gentile Francesco, Gielly, Ludovic, Huon, Sylvain, Lefèvre, Irène, Onda, Yuichi, Poulenard, Jérôme
The Science of the total environment 2019 v.665 pp. 873-881
DNA, algae, cropland, ferns and fern allies, forests, grasses, land use, models, organic matter, radioactive fallout, radionuclides, rivers, sediment deposition, sediments, shrubs, surface water, topsoil, trees, watersheds
An excessive supply of sediment is observed in numerous rivers across the world where it leads to deleterious impacts. Information on the sources delivering this material to waterbodies is required to design effective management measures, and sediment tracing or fingerprinting techniques are increasingly used to quantify the amount of sediment derived from different sources. However, the current methods used to identify the land use contributions to sediment have a limited discrimination power. Here, we investigated the potential of environmental DNA (eDNA) to provide more detailed information on the plant species found in sediment source areas as a next generation fingerprint. To this end, flood sediment deposits (n = 12) were collected in 2017 in two catchments impacted by the Fukushima radioactive fallout along differing river sections draining forests, cropland or a mix of both land uses. Conventional fingerprints (i.e. fallout radionuclides and organic matter properties) were also measured in these samples. The conventional fingerprint model results showed that most sediment samples contained a dominant proportion of subsoil material. Nevertheless, the eDNA information effectively discriminated the three above-mentioned groups of sediment, with the dominance of tree, shrub and fern species in sediment sampled in rivers draining forests versus a majority of grass, algae and cultivated plant species in sediment collected in rivers draining cropland. Based on these encouraging results, future research should examine the potential of eDNA in mixed land use catchments where the contribution of topsoil to sediment dominates and where the cultivation of land has not been abandoned in order to better characterize the memory effect of eDNA in soils and sediment.