Story: Critter tracks: Monitoring marine ecosystems with environmental DNA
By Laura Anderson
Can we understand and track the structures of marine ecosystems without seeing the ocean organisms? A recent article in Knowable Magazine highlights environmental DNA (eDNA) studies done by Early Career Science Fellow Collin Closek and collaborators along with other researchers. After taking water samples, researchers analyze the tiny bits of DNA that animals leave behind to discover the history of entire marine communities.
The method is also a noninvasive strategy for identifying species and monitoring ocean waters. Using samples from Monterey Bay, Closek found eDNA matched sightings of humpback whales in the area. “Our understanding of where those whales are located can be further improved by being able to have these eDNA locations,” he said. This work, along with efforts in the Florida Keys and Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuaries, continues a collaborative Marine Biodiversity Observation Network project, in partnership with MBARI, NOAA and the University of South Florida, aimed at revolutionizing marine wildlife and biodiversity monitoring and management.
“It’s a new frontier of how we’re seeing the world in a really different way,” said former Early Career Fellow Ryan Kelly, another researcher on the project team. “Who wouldn’t want to look into a glass of seawater and see sea stars and orcas, and everything in between?”