Development and field validation of an environmental DNA (eDNA) assay for invasive clams of the genus Corbicula

Dominique A. Cowart, Mark A. Renshaw, Crysta A. Gantz, John Umek, Sudeep Chandra, Scott P. Egan, David M. Lodge, Eric R. Larson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Early detection is imperative for successful control or eradication of invasive species, but many organisms are difficult to detect at the low abundances characteristic of recently introduced populations. Environmental DNA (eDNA) has emerged as a promising invasive species surveillance tool for freshwaters, owing to its high sensitivity to detect aquatic species even when scarce. We report here a new eDNA assay for the globally invasive Asian clam Corbicula fluminea (Müller, 1774), with field validation in large lakes of western North America. We identified a candidate primer pair for the Cytochrome c oxidase subunit 1 (COI) gene for C. fluminea. We tested it for specificity via qPCR assay against genomic DNA of the target species C. fluminea, and synthetic DNA gBlocks for other non-target species within and outside of the genus Corbicula. Our best identified primer amplifies a 208-bp fragment for C. fluminea and several closely related species within the genus, but was specific for these non-native Asian clams relative to native mollusks of western North America. We further evaluated this assay in application to eDNA water samples for the detection of C. fluminea from four lakes in California and Nevada, United States, where the species is known to occur (including Lake Tahoe) relative to seven lakes where it has never been observed. Our assay successfully detected C. fluminea in all four lakes with historic records for this species, and did not detect C. fluminea from the seven lakes without known populations. Further, the distribution of eDNA detections within Lake Tahoe generally matched the known, restricted distribution of C. fluminea in this large lake. We conclude from this successful field validation that our eDNA assay for C. fluminea will be useful for researchers and managers seeking to detect new introductions and potentially monitor population trends of this major freshwater invader and other closely related members of its genus.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-37
Number of pages11
JournalManagement of Biological Invasions
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2018


  • Corbicula fluminea
  • Freshwater clam
  • Invasive species
  • Invasive species surveillance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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