Marine communities and species distributions are dynamic — we expect them to change regularly through ecological and dispersal mechanisms that can be conceptualized as dynamic meta-communities. Add to this a signal of repeated or directional climate change, and it can be very difficult to trace, over time, how organisms are responding to environmental change using traditional visual and capture survey methods. Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding is a new technique that can allow rapid detection of marine metazoa (multicellular animals), allowing repeated temporal and spatial surveys at frequencies never before available. This technique is so new that we are still developing methods to make the sampling robust.
What is eDNA? In a nutshell, eDNA is the DNA within tissues, cells, organelles, and free molecules, that are naturally shed from organisms and suspended in water. This DNA can be captured in relatively small water samples, extracted, and sequenced to reveal which species' DNA are present in the sample.
Our Goal. Our project, DNA-TRACE, aims to develop the use of eDNA to track Temporal Responses Attributed to a Changing Environment in marine nearshore communities.
Our first objective is to streamline methods for sterile seawater collection that can be easily deployed across large spatial scales for rapid and straightforward water collection. Our second objective is to determine how much spatial replication is required to robustly and accurately detect the regional fish and invertebrate fauna, i.e. reducing false absences while optimizing sampling efficiency. With this information, we aim to build a biodiversity sampling network in which participants across a broad biogeographic region can take regular and comparable snapshots of marine biodiversity using eDNA.
Our partners. This work has been a collaborative effort with the Hakai Institute, and relies strongly on its fantastic Hakai field and laboratory research crew, as well as its Marna Genomics Laboratory on Quadra Island, BC. We are very grateful for support by the McGill Sustainability Systems Initiative, supporting graduate training and and a portion of the next-generation sequencing costs.
We are currently developing partnerships with Canada's government agencies to explore and develop the use of eDNA for biodiversity monitoring in Canada. Stay tuned, or contact us to get involved.