Evaluation of environmental DNA to detect Sistrurus catenatus and Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola in crayfish burrows


Environmental DNA represents a potentially cost-effective method for detection of rare and cryptic species, for which traditional sampling can be logistically costly. We tested species-specific probe-based assays to detect eDNA for the federally threatened eastern massasauga rattlesnake and the causative agent of snake fungal disease, Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola. We collected water samples from 100 crayfish burrows (over-wintering refugia) during spring emergence and screened them for snake and fungal DNA. We detected snake DNA in two samples and failed to detect O. ophiodiicola DNA. Given the high density of both target species at the sites, we suggest these methods may not offer a logistical and financial improvement over traditional sampling protocols.

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We thank Dr. Jonathan Warner and Cody Rhoden for their assistance collecting samples in the field, Samantha Barrett and Lindsey Hsieh for assistance in the lab, Dr. Matthew Allender for his advice on the Ophidiomyces assay, and the Illinois Tollway (1-594662-375002-191100-375A00) for funding this project.

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Correspondence to Sarah J. Baker.

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Baker, S.J., Niemiller, M.L., Stites, A.J. et al. Evaluation of environmental DNA to detect Sistrurus catenatus and Ophidiomyces ophiodiicola in crayfish burrows. Conservation Genet Resour 12, 13–15 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12686-018-1053-9

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  • Rattlesnake
  • Cryptic species
  • Snake fungal disease