Can you detect abundance?

eDNA provides replicable and meaningful data on relative abundance of aquatic organisms, but not absolute abundance (except in some very specific cases where extensive calibration has taken place – see Levi et al., 2018 for an example of using eDNA to count salmon in Alaska).

Some behavioural factors affect the amount of DNA given off by a particular species at a particular time (e.g. spikes of DNA associated with breeding or high levels of activity), and there are some interspecific differences in DNA shedding – for instance, small active fish tend to give off more DNA than large, slow ones.

In rivers, if you detect a small trace of a species it is difficult to tell whether this means there are a small number of individuals close to the sampling point or a larger number some distance upstream. That said, overall the rank abundance of species based on eDNA data tends to be a good reflection of the community.

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