New eDNA technology used to quickly assess coral reefs

ScienceDaily | 4/17/2019 | Staff
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Underwater visual surveys are used widely in coral reef ecology and are an important part of any coral reef monitoring program. However, visual surveys are typically conducted using SCUBA, which can be both time-consuming and logistically challenging.

As an efficient complement to visual surveys, the analysis of environmental DNA (eDNA), DNA sloughed or expelled from organisms into the environment, has been used to assess species diversity, primarily in aquatic environments. The technique takes advantage of the fact that all organisms constantly shed DNA into the environment, leaving behind a genetic residue that can be detected and analyzed with molecular biology tools.

Use - EDNA - Presence - Absence - Species

Despite the growing use of eDNA to catalog the presence and absence of species, a reliable link between the abundance of organisms and the quantity of DNA has remained elusive. In their paper, Nichols and Marko demonstrate that this new method tested on coral reefs in Hawai?i is a quick and cost-effective way to measure live coral "cover," the amount of a coral reef occupied by living corals. Because corals facilitate the presence of many other species on a reef, coral cover is one of several important measuring sticks that scientists use to characterize the status of a reef, an urgent task on reefs that are declining worldwide as a consequence of global climate change.

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