The detection of a non-anemophilous plant species using airborne eDNA

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Genetic analysis of airborne plant material has historically focused (generally implicitly rather than as a stated goal) on pollen from anemophilous (wind-pollinated) species, such as in multiple studies examining the relationship of allergens to human health. Inspired by the recent influx of literature applying environmental DNA (eDNA) approaches to targeted-species and whole-ecosystem study, we conducted a proof-of-concept experiment to determine whether airborne samples reliably detect genetic material from non-anemophilous species that may not be releasing large plumes of pollen. We collected airborne eDNA using Big Spring Number Eight dust traps and quantified the amount of eDNA present for a flowering wind-pollinated genus (Bouteloua) and insect-pollinated honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) that was not flowering at the time of the study. We were able to detect airborne eDNA from both species. Since honey mesquite is insect-pollinated and was not flowering during the time of this study, our results confirm that airborne eDNA consists of and can detect species through more than just pollen. Additionally, we were able to detect temporal patterns reflecting Bouteloua reproductive ecology and suggest that airborne honey mesquite eDNA responded to weather conditions during our study. These findings suggest a need for more study of the ecology of airborne eDNA to uncover its potential for single-species and whole-community research and management in terrestrial ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0225262
JournalPloS one
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


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