New insights on lake sediment DNA from the catchment: importance of taphonomic and analytical issues on the record quality

Charline Giguet-covex, Gentile Francesco Ficetola, Kevin James Walsh, Jérôme Poulenard, Manon Bajard, Laurent Fouinat, Pierre Sabatier, Ludovic Gielly, Erwan Messager, Anne-Lise Develle, Fernand David, Pierre Taberlet, Elodie Brisset, Frédéric Guiter, Rémi Sinet, Fabien Arnaud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Over the last decade, an increasing number of studies have used lake sediment DNA to trace past landscape changes, agricultural activities or human presence. However, the processes responsible for lake sediment formation might affect DNA records via taphonomic and analytical processes. It is crucial to understand these processes to ensure reliable interpretations for “palaeo” studies. Here, we combined plant and mammal DNA metabarcoding analyses with sedimentological and geochemical analyses from three lake-catchment systems that are characterised by different erosion dynamics. The new insights derived from this approach elucidate and assess issues relating to DNA sources and transfer processes. The sources of eroded materials strongly affect the “catchment-DNA” concentration in the sediments. For instance, erosion of upper organic and organo-mineral soil horizons provides a higher amount of plant DNA in lake sediments than deep horizons, bare soils or glacial flours. Moreover, high erosion rates, along with a well-developed hydrographic network, are proposed as factors positively affecting the representation of the catchment flora. The development of open and agricultural landscapes, which favour the erosion, could thus bias the reconstructed landscape trajectory but help the record of these human activities. Regarding domestic animals, pastoral practices and animal behaviour might affect their DNA record because they control the type of source of DNA (“point” vs. “diffuse”).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Early online date11 Oct 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 11 Oct 2019

Bibliographical note

© The Author(s) 2019


  • extracellular DNA
  • catchment DNA
  • Lake sediments
  • Metabarcoding
  • Taphonomy
  • plant cover
  • Agriculture
  • landscape archaeology

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