Using structured decision making to evaluate potential management responses to detection of dreissenid mussel (Dreissena spp.) environmental DNA.
Environmental (e)DNA tools are sensitive and cost-effective for early detection of invasive species. However, the uncertainty associated with the interpretation of positive eDNA detections makes it challenging to determine appropriate natural resource management responses. Multiple sources of error can give rise to positive detections of eDNA in a sample when individuals of that species are not present at the site or a widespread infestation is not imminent. Acting on an erroneous eDNA inference could result in needless costs or reductions in desirable resources. Alternatively, failure to rapidly act on eDNA results that truly indicate invader presence could compound negative impacts and lead to high, long-term costs to manage infestations. We used a structured decision making (SDM) process, which incorporates tradeoffs and uncertainties, to evaluate appropriate response actions following hypothetical eDNA detections of invasive dreissenid mussel (Dreissena spp.) eDNA in Jordanelle Reservoir, Utah (USA). We worked with decision-makers and stakeholders to identify objectives and discrete management action alternatives to assess consequences and tradeoffs. Alternatives ranged from no action to intensive and expensive control efforts. The best performing alternative was delayed containment described by immediate attempts to confirm the eDNA detections using nonmolecular sampling techniques followed by mandatory watercraft exit inspections to prevent dreissenid mussel spread to regional water bodies. Non-molecular sampling increased public support for management by demonstrating a commitment to monitor the invasion state before action, whereas containment decreased likelihood of regional spread to other waters. Delayed containment had the lowest downside risk, and the highest upside gains relative to other alternative actions. Sensitivity analyses showed our results to be robust to parameter and outcome uncertainty.