Detection of a diverse marine fish fauna using environmental DNA from seawater samples

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Marine ecosystems worldwide are under threat with many fish species and populations suffering from human over-exploitation. This is greatly impacting global biodiversity, economy and human health. Intriguingly, marine fish are largely surveyed using selective and invasive methods, which are mostly limited to commercial species, and restricted to particular areas with favourable conditions. Furthermore, misidentification of species represents a major problem. Here, we investigate the potential of using metabarcoding of environmental DNA (eDNA) obtained directly from seawater samples to account for marine fish biodiversity. This eDNA approach has recently been used successfully in freshwater environments, but never in marine settings. We isolate eDNA from 1/2-litre seawater samples collected in a temperate marine ecosystem in Denmark. Using next-generation DNA sequencing of PCR amplicons, we obtain eDNA from 15 different fish species, including both important consumption species, as well as species rarely or never recorded by conventional monitoring. We also detect eDNA from a rare vagrant species in the area; European pilchard (Sardina pilchardus). Additionally, we detect four bird species. Records in national databases confirmed the occurrence of all detected species. To investigate the efficiency of the eDNA approach, we compared its performance with 9 methods conventionally used in marine fish surveys. Promisingly, eDNA covered the fish diversity better than or equal to any of the applied conventional methods. Our study demonstrates that even small samples of seawater contain eDNA from a wide range of local fish species. Finally, in order to examine the potential dispersal of eDNA in oceans, we performed an experiment addressing eDNA degradation in seawater, which shows that even small (100-bp) eDNA fragments degrades beyond detectability within days. Although further studies are needed to validate the eDNA approach in varying environmental conditions, our findings provide a strong proof-of-concept with great perspectives for future monitoring of marine biodiversity and resources.
TidsskriftPLoS ONE
Udgave nummer8
Antal sider9
StatusUdgivet - 2012

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