By Amy Gosney and Hayley Erickson
In March CIEE Research Station Bonaire was joined by professor Chip Glaholt and two of his students from Indiana University (IU). They were here to study a relatively new monitoring technique that uses eDNA (environmental DNA) to tell what species of organisms are in a given environment at a given point in time. For aquatic environments this can be done by collecting water samples and matching DNA found in the water sample to the target species. If the DNA found in the water sample matches the target species’ DNA, you know that the target species is present in that environment.
What is really cool is that you don’t even need to catch or see the organism you are trying to detect because the DNA exists outside the organism on its own until it degrades. When an organism is present in an environment it leaves behind DNA which can be from shed scales, slim coat, blood, faeces, etc. As long as you collect those things in your water sample, you should be able determine if the target organism is present. This could be useful for monitoring invasive species, as you could track their progress or see if they’ve reached a certain location yet. It is also useful for monitoring endangered species as it is a hands-off technique. It has been found to be very effective in freshwater environments and so the researchers from IU came to study its effects in marine systems.
The three researchers were attempting to apply the eDNA monitoring technique to the lionfish invasion. For the laboratory experiment they tested to see if they could detect the lionfish and if it was possible to actually count the number of individuals present in each tank. For the field component they placed a lionfish in a cage on the reef and collected water samples down current to see whether they could detect the presence of the lionfish and at what distance. Their project used really interesting new techniques which could go towards changing the way we monitor species and we look forward to hearing about their results!