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Counting on eDNA for a faster, easier way to count coral

08 / 05 / 2019, Mongabaycom News

Faster and cheaper Surveying and studying coral takes a lot of work. It’s usually done manually, which requires wet suits and air tanks and SCUBA gear and people. But it’s important to do, as coral reefs have the most biodiversity of any ecosystem on Earth yet are degrading rapidly due to rising sea temperatures. Collecting water samples is much simpler and cheaper. And now a recent study shows that the eDNA found in these samples can give scientists the same accurate survey information without sending any divers down into the deep blue sea. Drone imagery of O’ahu’s southern coastline where researchers in the Molecular Ecology Lab at the University of Hawai’i use coral DNA from filtered seawater to assess coral cover on local reefs. Image by Patrick K. Nichols. eDNA, short for environmental DNA, is the DNA found in the bits of biological residue in soil, air, and water. In the past, collecting DNA from a certain plant or animal required scientists to physically come into contact with the species and take a sample directly. With eDNA however, scientists are able to collect DNA from the feces, pollen, skin, scales, or mucus found in soil or water samples. According to new research from the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa Department of Biology, eDNA can be used to accurately survey the amount of living coral in reefs. This study, led by Patrick Nichols, a marine biology graduate student, and associate professor Peter Marko, found a high correlation between the amount of…

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