Opportunities, challenges and technical advances in eDNA studies

Biological diversity is probably declining more rapidly than ever before in the history of the Oceans, and change of marine species distribution and migration pattern due to climate changes has already been demonstrated in many species. In addition, it has been suggested that climate-driven habitat changes and/or species loss in the oceans are likely to be underestimated as only a small fraction of the species in the deep sea and polar oceans have so far been identified, making the loss of species in the oceans much more difficult to record and evaluate than on land. This is also because ocean life is largely hidden from view. Monitoring diversity and distribution of marine life is challenging, expensive and highly time consuming – typically requiring large survey boats, big nets and skilled personnel.

An emerging conservation tool is the use of environmental DNA (eDNA), which gets around some of those limitations, providing a quick, affordable way to figure out what’s present in the ocean. The sources of eDNA can vary but usually include skin cells, mucus, eggs, urine or faeces. Surveys of eDNA present a series of advantages compared to conventional surveys methods: they are often easier to set up and implement and are less expensive, and are non-invasive, i.e. they are non-lethal and do not disturb the studied organisms. eDNA has been shown to be a powerful tool for investigating biodiversity in various ecosystems in a relatively low-cost effective manner while minimizing any stress induced by human interaction. Recently, eDNA has successfully been combined with acoustics data, field study, observations and experiments, which facilitates the possibility to quantify the studied species, going further than presence/absence studies.

MOBeDNA is a conference in which specialist of eDNA will present the challenges, sampling protocols and technical advances in eDNA studies.