Are Genetic Reference Libraries Sufficient for Environmental DNA Metabarcoding of Mekong River Basin Fish?

Christopher L Jerde, Andrew Mahon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding approaches to surveillance have great potential for advancing biodiversity monitoring and fisheries management. For eDNA metabarcoding, having a genetic reference sequence identified to fish species is vital to reduce detection errors. Detection errors will increase when there is no reference sequence for a species or when the reference sequence is the same between different species at the same sequenced region of DNA. These errors will be acute in high biodiversity systems like the Mekong River Basin, where many fish species have no reference sequences and many congeners have the same or very similar sequences. Recently developed tools allow for inspection of reference database coverage and the sequence similarity between species. These evaluation tools provide a useful pre-deployment approach to evaluate the breadth of fish species richness potentially detectable using eDNA metabarcoding. Here we combined established species lists for the Mekong River Basin, resulting in a list of 1345 fish species, evaluated the genetic library coverage across 23 peer-reviewed primer pairs, and measured the species specificity for one primer pair across four genera to demonstrate that coverage of genetic reference libraries is but one consideration before deploying an eDNA metabarcoding surveillance program. This analysis identifies many of the eDNA metabarcoding knowledge gaps with the aim of improving the reliability of eDNA metabarcoding applications in the Mekong River Basin. Genetic reference libraries perform best for common and commercially valuable Mekong fishes, while sequence coverage does not exist for many regional endemics, IUCN data deficient, and threatened fishes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1767
Issue number13
StatePublished - 2021


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