Quantifying marine biodiversity using environmental DNA (innovation fund)

Blue moki

We are developing an innovative, high-throughput and cost-efficient way to quantify marine biodiversity using environmental DNA extracted from marine water samples. In our initial study, we identified the presence of around 60 species in the test areas, and could clearly distinguish species from neighbouring but distinct habitats.

Project leader: Michael Knapp, University of Otago

Measuring biodiversity using eDNA

Tools to measure patterns in biodiversity are an important factor in developing efficient, ecosystem-based management of marine resources. Current methods are costly, labour-intensive, and rely on surveying a limited number of indicator species and sites to give an estimate of biodiversity and ecosystem health. Consequently, their capacity for correctly capturing the complexity of marine communities at an ecosystem level is limited.

We are establishing and testing an innovative, high-throughput and cost-efficient way to quantify marine biodiversity using environmental DNA (eDNA) extracted from marine water samples. Our initial results show the power of this new tool. We identified the presence of around 60 species in the test areas, and the species composition (which species are present) of neighbouring but distinct habitats were clearly distinguishable.

We are determining the spatial and temporal resolution of marine eDNA, the required sampling density and frequency, and the effects of external factors (such as weather and sea conditions), on the results. We will then verify the technique by comparing our eDNA findings with biodiversity metrics obtained with traditional monitoring.

The goal is to establish a new standard for quantifying marine biodiversity, enabling ecosystem-based management of New Zealand’s marine resources. Working closely with the Department of Conservation, Ministry for Primary Industries and kaitiaki/guardians, we will develop simple web-based tools to explore our eDNA data so that scientists and non-scientists can readily use this information to undertake their own research and underpin management decisions.

Latest news and updates

Award recognises contribution to marine science

University of Waikato scientist Professor Conrad Pilditch is the 2018 winner of the New Zealand Marine Sciences Society Award. The Award recognises his continued and outstanding contribution to marine science in New Zealand.

Sustainable Seas features on Ocean Bounty S2 EP7

Sir Rob Fenwick,  our Chairman was interviewed about Sustainable Seas on S2 EP7 of Ocean Bounty. You can watch it here on TV 3 on demand.  (6.57 to 11.20).  

Consultation opens re 2019–2024 strategy

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We therefore invite comment on our draft strategy for Phase II (2019–2024). This strategy has been co-developed with Māori and stakeholders.