Invasion genetics from eDNA and thousands of larvae: a targeted metabarcoding assay that distinguishes species and population variation of zebra and quagga mussels.
Identifying species and population genetic compositions of biological invasions at early life stages and/or from environmental (e)DNA using targeted high-throughput sequencing (HTS) metabarcode assays offers powerful and cost-effective means for early detection, analysis of spread patterns, and evaluating population changes. The present study develops, tests, and applies this method with a targeted sequence assay designed to simultaneously identify and distinguish between the closely related invasive Eurasian zebra and quagga mussels (Dreissena polymorpha and D. rostriformis) and their relatives and discern their respective population genetic patterns. Invasions of these dreissenid mussel species have markedly changed freshwater ecosystems throughout North America and Europe, exerting severe ecological and economic damage. Their planktonic early life stages (eggs and larvae) are morphologically indistinguishable, yet each species exerts differential ecological effects, with the quagga often outcompeting the zebra mussel as adults. Our targeted assay analyzes genetic variation from a diagnostic sequence region of the mitochondrial (mt)DNA cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene, to assess temporal and spatial inter- and intra-specific genetic variability. The assay facilitates analysis of environmental (e)DNA from water, early life stages from thousands of individuals, and simultaneous analysis of 50-100 tagged field-collected samples. Experiments evaluated its accuracy and performance using: (a) mock laboratory communities containing known DNA quantities per taxon, (b) aquaria with mixed-species/haplotype compositions of adults, and (c) field-collected water and plankton versus traditional sampling of adult communities. Results delineated species compositions, relative abundances, and population-level diversity differences among ecosystems, habitats, time series, and life stages from two allopatric concurrent invasions in the Great Lakes (Lake Erie) and the Hudson River, which had separate founding histories. Findings demonstrate application of this targeted assay and our approach to accurately and simultaneously discern species- and population-level differences across spatial and temporal scales, facilitating early detection and ecological understanding of biological invasions.