How long does DNA last for in the environment? Is there a risk of finding something that is no longer there?

The average half life of eDNA is about 48 hours but this varies depending on environmental conditions and small amounts of DNA have been known to last for weeks. The degradation of the DNA is slowest when it’s cold, dark, or when the DNA is bound to sediment, and faster in more acidic environments. Collins et al., 2018 provides a good overview of eDNA persistence in marine environments, and Li et al., 2019 showed that there was no detectable eDNA signal 48 hours after removal of fish from small lakes. Findings are typically that eDNA analysis gives a good snapshot of contemporary communities and not historical records.

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