Carnegie Mellon University
Making Sense of the Noise: Statistical Analysis of Environmental.pdf (5.15 MB)

Making Sense of the Noise: Statistical Analysis of Environmental DNA Sampling for Invasive Asian Carp Monitoring Near the Great Lakes

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posted on 2017-05-01, 00:00 authored by Jeffery W. Song

Sensitive and accurate detection methods are critical for monitoring and managing the spread of aquatic invasive species, such as invasive Silver Carp (SC; Hypophthalmichthys molitrix) and Bighead Carp (BH; Hypophthalmichthys nobilis) near the Great Lakes. A new detection tool called environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling, the collection and screening of water samples for the presence of the target species’ DNA, promises improved detection sensitivity compared to conventional surveillance methods. However, the application of eDNA sampling for invasive species management has been challenging due to the potential of false positives, from detecting species’ eDNA in the absence of live organisms. In this dissertation, I study the sources of error and uncertainty in eDNA sampling and develop statistical tools to show how eDNA sampling should be utilized for monitoring and managing invasive SC and BH in the United States. In chapter 2, I investigate the environmental and hydrologic variables, e.g. reverse flow, that may be contributing to positive eDNA sampling results upstream of the electric fish dispersal barrier in the Chicago Area Waterway System (CAWS), where live SC are not expected to be present. I used a beta-binomial regression model, which showed that reverse flow volume across the barrier has a statistically significant positive relationship with the probability of SC eDNA detection upstream of the barrier from 2009 to 2012 while other covariates, such as water temperature, season, chlorophyll concentration, do not. This is a potential alternative explanation for why SC eDNA has been detected upstream of the barrier but intact SC have not. In chapter 3, I develop and parameterize a statistical model to evaluate how changes made to the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)’s eDNA sampling protocols for invasive BH and SC monitoring from 2013 to 2015 have influenced their sensitivity. The model shows that changes to the protocol have caused the sensitivity to fluctuate. Overall, when assuming that eDNA is randomly distributed, the sensitivity of the current protocol is higher for BH eDNA detection and similar for SC eDNA detection compared to the original protocol used from 2009-2012. When assuming that eDNA is clumped, the sensitivity of the current protocol is slightly higher for BH eDNA detection but worse for SC eDNA detection. In chapter 4, I apply the model developed in chapter 3 to estimate the BH and SC eDNA concentration distributions in two pools of the Illinois River where BH and SC are considered to be present, one pool where they are absent, and upstream of the electric barrier in the CAWS given eDNA sampling data and knowledge of the eDNA sampling protocol used in 2014. The results show that the estimated mean eDNA concentrations in the Illinois River are highest in the invaded pools (La Grange; Marseilles) and are lower in the uninvaded pool (Brandon Road). The estimated eDNA concentrations in the CAWS are much lower compared to the concentrations in the Marseilles pool, which indicates that the few eDNA detections in the CAWS (3% of samples positive for SC and 0.4% samples positive for BH) do not signal the presence of live BH or SC. The model shows that >50% samples positive for BH or SC eDNA are needed to infer AC presence in the CAWS, i.e., that the estimated concentrations are similar to what is found in the Marseilles pool. Finally, in chapter 5, I develop a decision tree model to evaluate the value of information that monitoring provides for making decisions about BH and SC prevention strategies near the Great Lakes. The optimal prevention strategy is dependent on prior beliefs about the expected damage of AC invasion, the probability of invasion, and whether or not BH and SC have already invaded the Great Lakes (which is informed by monitoring). Given no monitoring, the optimal strategy is to stay with the status quo of operating electric barriers in the CAWS for low probabilities of invasion and low expected invasion costs. However, if the probability of invasion is greater than 30% and the cost of invasion is greater than $100 million a year, the optimal strategy changes to installing an additional barrier in the Brandon Road pool. Greater risk-aversion (i.e., aversion to monetary losses) causes less prevention (e.g., status quo instead of additional barriers) to be preferred. Given monitoring, the model shows that monitoring provides value for making this decision, only if the monitoring tool has perfect specificity (false positive rate = 0%).




Degree Type

  • Dissertation


  • Engineering and Public Policy

Degree Name

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mitchell J. Small

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