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Using vertebrate environmental DNA from seawater in biomonitoring of marine habitats

Citation

Sigsgaard, Eva Egelyng et al. (2019), Using vertebrate environmental DNA from seawater in biomonitoring of marine habitats, Dryad, Dataset, https://doi.org/10.5061/dryad.hmgqnk9c0

Abstract

Conservation and management of marine biodiversity depends on biomonitoring of marine habitats,
but current approaches are resource-intensive and require different approaches for different organisms. Environmental
DNA (eDNA) extracted from water samples is an efficient and versatile approach to detecting aquatic
animals. In the ocean, eDNA composition reflects local fauna at fine spatial scales, but little is known about the
effectiveness of eDNA-based monitoring of marine communities at larger scales. We investigated the potential of
eDNA to characterize and distinguish marine communities at large spatial scales by comparing vertebrate species
composition among marine habitats in Qatar, the Arabian Gulf (also known as the Persian Gulf), based on eDNA
metabarcoding of seawater samples. We conducted species accumulation analyses to estimate how much of the
vertebrate diversity we detected. We obtained eDNA sequences from a diverse assemblage of marine vertebrates,
spanning 191 taxa in 73 families. These included rare and endangered species and covered 36% of the bony fish
genera previously recorded in the gulf. Sites of similar habitat type were also similar in eDNA composition. The
species accumulation analyses showed that the number of sample replicates was insufficient for some sampling
sites but suggested that a few hundred eDNA samples could potentially capture >90% of the marine vertebrate
diversity in the study area. Our results confirm that seawater samples contain habitat-characteristic molecular
signatures and that eDNA monitoring can efficiently cover vertebrate diversity at scales relevant to national and
regional conservation and management.