Quantifying marine biodiversity using environmental DNA

A key to efficient, ecosystem-based management of marine resources is the availability of suitable tools to measure patterns in biodiversity. Current methods are costly, labour intensive and rely on surveys of a limited number of indicator species and sites to provide an estimate of biodiversity and ecosystem health. Consequently, their capacity for resolving the complexity of marine communities at an ecosystem level is highly compromised.

We are working to establish and test an innovative, high-throughput and cost efficient strategy for quantifying marine biodiversity using environmental DNA (eDNA) extracted from marine water samples. We are exploring the spatial and temporal resolution of marine eDNA, the required sampling density and frequency, and the effects of external factors (e.g. weather and sea conditions), on the results obtained. We ground-truth our approach by comparing biodiversity metrics obtained through eDNA with those achieved via traditional monitoring.

This project is undertaken in collaboration with Dr Michael Knapp, PhD student Gert-Jan Jeunen and others and is funded through the Sustainable Seas NSC innovation fund.