eDNA sampled from stream networks correlates with camera trap detection rates of terrestrial mammals

Biodiversity monitoring delivers vital information to those making conservation decisions. Comprehensively measuring terrestrial biodiversity usually requires costly methods that can rarely be deployed at large spatial scales over multiple time periods, limiting conservation efficiency. Here we investigated the capacity of environmental DNA (eDNA) from stream water samples to survey terrestrial mammal diversity at multiple spatial scales within a large catchment. We compared biodiversity information recovered using an eDNA metabarcoding approach with data from a dense camera trap survey, as well as the sampling costs of both methods. Via the sampling of large volumes of water from the two largest streams that drained the study area, eDNA metabarcoding provided information on the presence and detection probabilities of 35 mammal taxa, 25% more than camera traps and for half the cost. While eDNA metabarcoding had limited capacity to detect felid species and provide individual-level demographic information, it is a cost-efficient method for large-scale monitoring of terrestrial mammals that can offer sufficient information to solve many conservation problems.