iDNA from terrestrial haematophagous leeches as a wildlife surveying and monitoring tool - prospects, pitfalls and avenues to be developed

Schnell, Ida Baerholm, Sollmann, Rahel, Calvignac-Spencer, Sebastien, Siddall, Mark E., Yu, Douglas W., Wilting, Andreas and Gilbert, M. Thomas. P. (2015) iDNA from terrestrial haematophagous leeches as a wildlife surveying and monitoring tool - prospects, pitfalls and avenues to be developed. Frontiers in Zoology, 12. ISSN 1742-9994

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Invertebrate-derived DNA (iDNA) from terrestrial haematophagous leeches has recently been proposed as a powerful non-invasive tool with which to detect vertebrate species and thus to survey their populations. However, to date little attention has been given to whether and how this, or indeed any other iDNA-derived data, can be combined with state-of-the-art analytical tools to estimate wildlife abundances, population dynamics and distributions. In this review, we discuss the challenges that face the application of existing analytical methods such as site-occupancy and spatial capture-recapture (SCR) models to terrestrial leech iDNA, in particular, possible violations of key assumptions arising from factors intrinsic to invertebrate parasite biology. Specifically, we review the advantages and disadvantages of terrestrial leeches as a source of iDNA and summarize the utility of leeches for presence, occupancy, and spatial capture-recapture models. The main source of uncertainty that attends species detections derived from leech gut contents is attributable to uncertainty about the spatio-temporal sampling frame, since leeches retain host-blood for months and can move after feeding. Subsequently, we briefly address how the analytical challenges associated with leeches may apply to other sources of iDNA. Our review highlights that despite the considerable potential of leech (and indeed any) iDNA as a new survey tool, further pilot studies are needed to assess how analytical methods can overcome or not the potential biases and assumption violations of the new field of iDNA. Specifically we argue that studies to compare iDNA sampling with standard survey methods such as camera trapping, and those to improve our knowledge on leech (and other invertebrate parasite) physiology, taxonomy, and ecology will be of immense future value.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2015 Schnell et al. Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.
Uncontrolled Keywords: estimating population-size,estimating site occupancy,capture-recapture models,fly-derived dna,mark-recapture,environmental dna,biodiversity hotspots,species occurrence,national-park,cytochrome-b
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Science > School of Biological Sciences
UEA Research Groups: Faculty of Science > Research Centres > Centre for Ecology, Evolution and Conservation
Faculty of Science > Research Groups > Organisms and the Environment
Depositing User: Pure Connector
Date Deposited: 22 Jan 2016 16:00
Last Modified: 11 May 2023 10:30
DOI: 10.1186/s12983-015-0115-z


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