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Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center

Correlating seasonal trends and occupancy of bigheaded carp eDNA to land use and stream characteristics

Supervisor - Jon Amberg
Principal Investigator
Chris Merkes


The bigheaded carp invasion is knocking at the door to the Great Lakes, and in order to effectively control them we need to understand them. The life history and behavior of bigheaded carps is now better understood, and that knowledge has contributed greatly to integrated pest management (IPM) plans both in place and under development for controlling their spread. There is continued effort to make the IPM plans more effective and more selective. Environmental DNA analysis in conjunction with more traditional surveying techniques is currently being used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to monitor for expansion of the invasion front of bigheaded carps, but there is increasing evidence that eDNA analysis can inform more than just the presence or absence of these invasive species. We have shown that migration and spawning activities can be detected by spikes in eDNA concentrations (Erickson and others, 2016), and we have also shown that there are seasonal trends in occupancy of bigheaded carp eDNA (Erickson and others, unpublished data). The Wabash River in Indiana harbors a dynamic population of bigheaded carps where they are abundant in lower reaches and rare in upper reaches. Researchers at Purdue University have tagged hundreds of these fish to track their movements past an array of stationary receivers, and this population of bigheaded carp has been well studied in recent years. In this study, we will use eDNA analysis from samples collected on the Wabash River from 2013 to 2016.  We will correlate this to land use data for the watershed over the same time period to determine if there are any trends that relate bigheaded carp eDNA signatures to bigheaded carp behavior and land use patterns or stream characteristics. These results may then be exploited to help control bigheaded carps in other systems that have not been as intensively studied.


  1. Determine if and/or how seasonal bigheaded carp eDNA concentrations have changed in the last 4 years on the Wabash River.
  2. Determine if and/or how seasonal trends or changes over time in bigheaded carp eDNA correlate to land use patterns or stream characteristics on the Wabash River.


Erickson RA, Rees CB, Coulter AA, Merkes CM, McCalla SG, Touzinsky KF, Walleser L, Goforth RR, Amberg JJ. (2016) Detecting the movement and spawning activity of bigheaded carps with environmental DNA. Molecular Ecology Resources. In press. DOI: 10.1111/1755-0998.12533.

Erickson RA, Merkes CM, Jackson CA, Goforth RR, Amberg JJ. (In review) Seasonal trends in eDNA detection and occupancy of bigheaded carps.


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