Biological Invasions

, Volume 21, Issue 4, pp 1075–1088 | Cite as

eDNA-based crayfish plague detection as practical tool for biomonitoring and risk assessment of A. astaci-positive crayfish populations

  • Claudia WittwerEmail author
  • Stefan Stoll
  • Marco Thines
  • Carsten Nowak
Original Paper


While environmental DNA (eDNA) approaches have the potential to revolutionize biodiversity research and monitoring, most aquatic biomonitoring and management programs still rely on conventional monitoring methodologies. Here we evaluated the suitability and robustness of an eDNA-based approach for the detection of the crayfish plague agent Aphanomyces astaci and assessed the capacity of this new method as practical tool for bioassessments in freshwater. The approach was examined in three case studies: case study A tested its use as biomonitoring tool to determine the range and density of A. astaci- infected crayfish populations in three different water systems. Case study B focussed on the identification of possible A. astaci infection sources, here an aquafarm. For case study C we assessed a migration front of infected crayfish near a native crayfish area. The eDNA-based detection allowed to infer local patterns and distribution limits of crayfish plague occurrence. Spore estimates in eDNA samples correlated significantly with catch per unit effort values and pathogen loads of captured A. astaci- positive crayfish obtained from trapping in running waters. We also showed that spore concentrations are detectable up to three kilometres downstream from hot spot areas of infected crayfish. By identifying a possible A. astaci entry point and migration front eDNA proved suitable for the detection of A. astaci spores at low population densities and/or pathogen levels of infected crayfish. The study provides conclusive evidence for the suitability of the eDNA approach as a tool for risk assessment and large-scale monitoring of A. astaci for a wide range of practical conservation issues of indigenous crayfish species.


Environmental DNA Aphanomyces astaci Pacifastacus leniusculus Density dependence Biomonitoring Risk management 



We are thankful to the fisheries administrations of the State of Hessen, namely Dr. Christian Köhler and Patrick Heinz (Regierungspräsidium Darmstadt), Guntram Ohm-Winter and Marlene Höfner (Regierungspräsidium Gießen) and Christoph Laczny (Regierungspräsidium Kassel) for funding this project. We would like to acknowledge Ulrike and Michael Lierz, who granted access to the aquafarm area. We gratefully acknowledge Trude Vrålstad (Norwegian Veterinary Institute) and David Strand (Norwegian Institute for Water Research) for sharing their broad knowledge on eDNA-based crayfish plague detection. We thank Berardino Cocchiararo, Silvia Mort-Farre and Julia Mann for field and laboratory assistance. We would like to acknowledge Christoph Dümpelmann and Rainer Hennings for valuable information on local crayfish distribution. We also thank the unknown reviewers for their helpful comments to improve the manuscript.


This work was funded (Grant F7/2012) and fishing permits were granted by the State of Hessen, represented by the regional authorities Regierungspräsidien Darmstadt, Gießen and Kassel.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed.

Supplementary material

10530_2018_1886_MOESM1_ESM.docx (32 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 32 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum FrankfurtConservation Genetics GroupGelnhausenGermany
  2. 2.Faculty of Biological SciencesGoethe-University FrankfurtFrankfurt am MainGermany
  3. 3.Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt, River and Floodplain Ecology GroupGelnhausenGermany
  4. 4.University of Applied Sciences TrierNeubrückeGermany
  5. 5.Faculty of BiologyUniversity of Duisburg-EssenEssenGermany
  6. 6.Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F)Frankfurt am MainGermany
  7. 7.LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (LOEWE-TBG)Frankfurt am MainGermany

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