Terrestrial eDNA survey outperforms conventional approach for detecting an invasive pest insect within an agricultural ecosystem

Michael C. Allen, Anne L. Nielsen, Donnie L. Peterson, Julie L. Lockwood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Recent methodological advances permit surveys for terrestrial insects from the direct collection of environmental DNA (eDNA) deposited on vegetation or other surfaces. However, in contrast to well-studied aquatic applications, little is known about how detection rates for such terrestrial eDNA-based surveys compare with conventional survey methods. Lycorma delicatula, the spotted lanternfly, is an emerging invasive insect in eastern North America, and a significant ecological and economic pest of forested and agricultural systems, especially grapes. During fall 2019, we conducted two rounds of paired eDNA and visual surveys for spotted lanternflies within 48 plots at 12 vineyards in New Jersey, USA. We compared detection probabilities within a multimethod occupancy modeling framework and used the results to extrapolate and inform survey design. The probability of detecting spotted lanternflies given presence in a plot was over two times higher for eDNA (84%) versus visual surveys (36%). In mid-September, lanternfly eDNA was detected at five plots in three vineyards, while visual surveys revealed only a single individual in one plot. In early October, after dispersal of lanternflies into vineyards, lanternfly eDNA was detected in 12 plots within six vineyards compared with visual detections in six plots in two vineyards. Extrapolations based on detection and local-scale occupancy rates indicate that only five and 12 plots would have been needed to positively detect lanternfly presence with 95% confidence using eDNA in contrast to 14 and 29 plots with visual surveys alone, respective to survey rounds. Log-linear models revealed that visual counts of lanternflies were positively related to eDNA concentrations (R2 = 71%). We provide some of the first quantitative evidence to support the enhanced sensitivity of terrestrial eDNA approaches compared with conventional methods. Such methods can augment efforts to combat invasive species through improved ability to delimit invasion fronts, identify satellite populations, and confirm local eradications.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1102-1112
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental DNA
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Genetics


  • Lycorma delicatula
  • biosecurity
  • detection probability
  • early detection
  • insects
  • invasive species
  • multiscale occupancy


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