Environmental DNA reveals the temporal and spatial extent of spawning migrations of European shad in a highly fragmented river basin

Caterina Maria Antognazza, J. Robert Britton, Vanessa De Santis, Konstantina Kolia, Ossi A. Turunen, Peter Davies, Laura Allen, Emilie A. Hardouin, Charles Crundwell, Demetra Andreou

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    Artificial barriers on lowland rivers impede the spawning migrations of anadromous fishes, preventing access to historical spawning areas. In the cryptic European shads Alosa alosa and Alosa fallax (‘shad’ hereafter), this has resulted in population declines across their range. Conservation programmes aim to facilitate the passage of migrators over these barriers and so require baseline information on the spatial and temporal extent of current migrations. Here, a shad-specific environmental DNA (eDNA) assay was used to quantify the spatial extent of shad spawning migrations in the River Severn basin, western England. This basin is characterized by the presence of multiple barriers in the lower catchment. In 2017, the eDNA assay was piloted in the River Teme, an important shad spawning tributary, and then applied in 2018 and 2019 across the lower Severn basin. In all years, shad DNA was detected between mid-May and mid-June, with the maximum spatial extent of shad distribution being in early June when shad eDNA was detected upstream of weirs that were generally considered as impassable. In 2018, this included the detection of shad above the most upstream weir on the main River Severn that required individual fish to have passed six weirs. Although barriers inhibit the spawning migrations of shad, this eDNA assay showed that some highly vagile individuals might be able to ascend these barriers and migrate considerable distances upstream. This suggests that efforts to increase the permeability of these barriers could result in relatively high numbers of migrating shad reaching upstream spawning areas. These results demonstrate that this eDNA assay could also be used across their range, to further quantify the spatial extent of their spawning, including in highly fragmented rivers and those where shad are believed to spawn only occasionally and are rarely observed.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2029-2040
    Number of pages12
    JournalAquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
    Issue number8
    Early online date6 May 2021
    Publication statusPublished - Aug 2021

    Bibliographical note

    This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


    Financial support for this study was given by a studentship from the Severn Rivers Trust, Natural England, Environment Agency and Bournemouth University, with funding from ‘Unlocking the Severn for LIFE’, LIFE Nature Programme (LIFE15/NAT/UK/000219).


    • fish
    • habitat management
    • impoundment
    • migration
    • restoration
    • river

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Aquatic Science
    • Ecology
    • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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