Rivers are a vital resource for human wellbeing. To reduce human impact on water bodies, the European Union has established an essential regulatory framework for protection and sustainable management (WFD; 2000/60/EC). In this strategy, reliable and economic bioindicators are a fundamental component. Benthic macroinvertebrates are the group most commonly used as bioindicators through all European countries. However, their conventional assessment currently entails serious cost-efficiency limitations. In this study, we have tested the reliability of metabarcoding as a tool to record river macroinvertebrates using samples from a mock community (in vitro validation) and eDNA extracted for field validation from water from six sites within a north Iberian river (River Nalón, Asturias, Spain). Two markers (V4 region within the nuclear 18S rDNA and a fragment of the mitochondrial COI gene) were amplified and sequenced using an Illumina platform. The molecular technique has proven to be more sensitive than the visual one. A cost-benefit analysis shows that the metabarcoding approach is more expensive than conventional techniques for determining macroinvertebrate communities but requires fewer sampling and identification efforts. Our results suggest metabarcoding is a useful tool for alternative assessment of freshwater quality.

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