WHAT’S IN THE WATER!?

With just a few notes on the location where  a water sample was taken and what species we might expect to find there, eDNA results can tell us a lot about the biodiversity of a given body of water!

With just a few notes on the location where  a water sample was taken and what species we might expect to find there, eDNA results can tell us a lot about the biodiversity of a given body of water!

The Upper Feather River Basin-Wide Native Fish Assessment and Improvement Strategy (UFRBWA) eDNA sampling effort is underway!

Environmental DNA, or eDNA, sampling consists of collecting water samples and filtering them for ambient DNA found in the water column. The filtered DNA samples are then analyzed in a laboratory setting to test for the presence or absence of a particular species, or sometimes even an entire assemblage. While the laboratory methods for analyzing eDNA have been long used in medicine, epidemiology, and other biological fields, utilization of field-collected samples to detect the presence of certain species from a water sample is a recent development. This novel application of eDNA technology makes it possible for resource managers to rapidly and efficiently sample for species presence across huge geographic areas, just as we plan to do in the UFRBWA!

Local resident John Fisher was surprised at how fast it was to collect a sample… We were surprised at how fast his boat could go! We finished sampling Frenchman Lake in 40 minutes flat!

Local resident John Fisher was surprised at how fast it was to collect a sample… We were surprised at how fast his boat could go! We finished sampling Frenchman Lake in 40 minutes flat!

So, on an April 21st pilot outing myself, TU Staff, and project advisor Mike Kossow sampled Lake Davis and Frenchman Lake, two reservoirs located in the eastern portion of the Upper Feather River Watershed. Lake Davis is a site of particular interest for sampling in the basin because non-native Northern pike (Esox lucius) were eradicated by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) in 2007 in order to restore the reservoir’s trout fishery to its former excellence. Currently, we are approaching the ten-year mark since the Lake Davis eradication effort took place. CDFW plans to sample the lake by conventional means (i.e. boat electrofisher) for this milestone. Negative detection for pike in the results of both CDFW and our samples will confirm the success of eradication efforts without doubt.

During our outing we collected samples from 24 sites on Lake Davis and 6 sites on Frenchman Lake. These initial samples will be split and shipped to two separate labs for eDNA analysis. One lab, at Central Michigan University, will assess the entire fish assemblages in the reservoirs. Those results are expected sometime in the fall. Another analysis, to be conducted at the University of California, Davis, will yield faster results, a couple of months perhaps, as it tests specifically for the presence of Northern pike.

The largest of the three Upper Feather River reservoirs created as mitigation for the loss of recreation opportunities resulting from the construction of Oroville Lake, Lake Davis stands at approximately 4000 surface-acres with nearly 38 miles of shoreline when at it’s full capacity; plenty of places for a toothy invader to hide!

The largest of the three Upper Feather River reservoirs created as mitigation for the loss of recreation opportunities resulting from the construction of Oroville Lake, Lake Davis stands at approximately 4000 surface-acres with nearly 38 miles of shoreline when at it’s full capacity; plenty of places for a toothy invader to hide!

Frenchman Lake, like Davis, was created as mitigation for Lake Oroville (Antelope Lake is the third). It is also managed by CDFW primarily as a cold-water fishery. For the UFRBWA, the samples collected from both sites will be analyzed to determine the complete fish assemblage present.

Frenchman Lake, like Davis, was created as mitigation for Lake Oroville (Antelope Lake is the third). It is also managed by CDFW primarily as a cold-water fishery. For the UFRBWA, the samples collected from both sites will be analyzed to determine the complete fish assemblage present.

Further eDNA sampling efforts under the UFRBWA will take place over the course of this summer. This will consist of a massive, geographic sampling protocol taking samples from water bodies across the Basin in order to determine the presence or absence of a suite of species.

Along with the results of the sampling at these first locations, results from the entire eDNA sampling will be examined alongside the conventional sampling survey record. Cumulatively, they will capture a snapshot in time of species distribution across the Basin, with the aim of helping agencies steer a variety of conservation and monitoring efforts in the future.

Dr. Jerde (left) and UFRBWA project advisor Mike Kossow couldn’t help themselves but to talk extensively about fishing in Montana, of course!

Dr. Jerde (left) and UFRBWA project advisor Mike Kossow couldn’t help themselves but to talk extensively about fishing in Montana, of course!

This initial effort was made possible with the help of Dr. Christopher Jerde, a Research Assistant Professor with the Department of Biology at University of Reno. Dr Jerde, along with his colleague Dr. Andrew Mahon at Central Michigan University, pioneered species surveillance using eDNA techniques while monitoring the spread of carp and other species in the Great Lakes Basin. Dr. Jerde has graciously offered to lend his experience and expertise regarding the applications of eDNA species surveillance with those involved in the UFRBWA effort.

Also credited are Trout Unlimited national staff member Mike Caltagirone and Feather River Trout Unlimited Chapter President Cindy Noble for their coordination help.

Ed Dillard (at the wheel) is an experienced local angling guide. He was more than willing to share his vast knowledge of species distribution in Lake Davis, helping us to decide what specific areas we should sample in!

Ed Dillard (at the wheel) is an experienced local angling guide. He was more than willing to share his vast knowledge of species distribution in Lake Davis, helping us to decide what specific areas we should sample in!

Most importantly, I’d like to thank local volunteers who graciously donated their time and watercraft. Ed Dillard, of Dillard Guided Fishing, assisted us at Lake Davis and shared his vast knowledge of the fishery in the reservoir, helping to inform our sampling efforts. John Fisher, a local resident of Sierra Valley, assisted us at Frenchman Lake, helping us to collect our samples there with speed and style. Their assistance that day was invaluable.

And this is only just the beginning of what is sure to be a unique and groundbreaking application of eDNA technology!