Environmental DNA in Marine Protected Areas

Rapid assessment of marine biodiversity to evaluate the effectiveness of marine protected areas in the California Channel Islands

Campus: UCLA

PI(s): Barber, Wayne

Background: A growing body of literature has demonstrated the effectiveness of marine protected areas in restoring biodiversity and abundance of fish species. This research has sparked a global increase in MPAs to protect marine fisheries and ecosystems, although the size and design of these are highly variable. However, the success of MPAs is frequently assessed focused exclusively on commercial or recreational fish species to the exclusion of overall ecosystem health and resiliency, potentially leaving these protected areas vulnerable to broad scale environmental changes, like climate change. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the factors of MPAs that maximize ecosystem function, for both important commercial species like fish, as well as ecologically important communities like microbes that control many of the ecological processes in marine ecosystems.

Approach: Current methods for evaluating ecosystem function within marine ecosystems include fish biodiversity and trophic structure assessment. Unfortunately, current SCUBA aided assessment methods are time and labor intensive, difficult to repeat, and ignore changes in marine microbial communities. New techniques using environmental DNA (eDNA) offer rapid, cost effective, and accurate tools for monitoring marine biodiversity. Advances in eDNA techniques have allowed scientists to accurately detect over 93% of fish species from seawater in both aquaria and reef ecosystems as well as entire marine virus and bacteria communities, allowing for unprecedented assessments of marine biodiversity across a wide range of taxa. eDNA will be captured along 33 long term National Park monitoring sites across the Channels Islands.

Resources: eDNA methods testing has been initiated with support from a La Kretz grant. An NSF graduate research fellowship award supports a graduate student associated with the project. Sampling equipment is provided by an unrelated NSF grant. The project involves 1 catalyst collaborator (Bob Wayne) as well as associated faculty Paul Barber.