To properly manage marine resources and implement protective measures when necessary, information about species populations is key. Currently, this information is obtained from divers’ visual observations, counting and capturing, but this can often fail to include certain rare species or ones that hide in inaccessible locations. Since every living organism leaves DNA in its environment, we can use this to identify each species and detect their presence or recent passage.
The programme aims to develop environmental DNA methodology as an innovative tool for detecting and identifying marine species. With such a tool, we could assess biodiversity as a whole and more specifically, cryptic species (that are hard to observe, either because they are hidden, nocturnal or morphologically very similar) and fish species that are of economic interest, endangered or invasive.
Environmental DNA methodology is already being used on land and in freshwater, but there are very few studies on how to adapt it for use in a marine environment, where trace DNA is diluted and dispersed in large volumes of seawater, creating an added difficulty. We need to know how much water is required to obtain reliable information. Once the methodology has been developed and mastered, we can simply collect a sample of seawater to recover all the DNA it contains. With this, we can detect which animal or plant species are present or were there recently. Used alongside traditional methods such as diver observations and capture, this methodology would allow us to monitor marine ecosystems by simply collecting water samples.
DNA databases still contain gaps when it comes to marine fauna and flora. Without these sequences, we cannot determine which species are present. This phase involves exchanging data with other facilities working on this type of research programme, so as to catalogue more Mediterranean species. This data bank will include coastal species but also pelagic species, particularly marine mammals. After several sampling campaigns in June and October 2018, initial significant results can be expected by the end of 2018.
This non-invasive method will provide managers of marine areas (institutions, MPAs, policy-makers and scientists) with precise and exhaustive data to support decision-making on how to manage and protect marine ecosystems.
In the years to come, this methodological breakthrough in marine biology will have many applications, such as:
– high-potential, non-invasive detection for biodiversity inventories,
– stock monitoring and estimation,
– early detection and monitoring of invasive species,
– assessing the potential ecosystem services of natural or anthropized sites
– calculating baselines and monitoring trends in biological communities in sensitive areas (lagoons, estuaries, zones receiving effluent from wastewater treatment), or sites that have been either restored (artificial reefs) or developed (ports, seawalls).
Last updated on : 28 March 2019
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