Using eDNA to investigate the biodiversity and genetics of tropical reef fishes

Theme: Biodiversity, Ecology & Conservation

Primary Supervisor:

Julia Day

Genetics, Evolution and Environment, UCL

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Secondary Supervisor:

Chris Yesson

Biodiversity and Macroecology Theme, IOZ

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Additional Supervisor(s):
Catherine Head (Institute of Zoology)

Project Description:

The field of molecular ecology uses genetic methods to address ecological based questions, and recently has seen the emergence of environmental (e)DNA as a new reliable and non-invasive tool for conservation biology (1). eDNA can be extracted from water, soil and even air, but is particularly appealing regarding aquatic systems, which are often overlooked compared to their terrestrial counterparts and can be difficult to monitor. Recently, we and others have shown how effective this tool is for monitoring even highly diverse tropical animal communities (2). Furthermore, despite its use in population genetics being in its infancy, several studies have begun to validate the exciting potential of eDNA to generate species population genetic data (see 3, and refs therein).

This project, joint between IoZ and UCL, will harness eDNA methods (e.g., metabarcoding) to investigate the biodiversity of the Chagos Archipelago – a remote island system in the middle of the Indian Ocean. With over 700 species of reef fishes, the project will focus on the biodiversity of this highly species rich and functionally diverse group and will also seek to investigate the biogeographic patterns of selected fish groups. It also has the potential to investigate other vertebrate animal communities/species. Filtered water samples are available for immediate study, thus providing a pandemic proof opportunity to investigate both spatial and temporal perspectives on these important and diverse reef fish communities. There may also be scope for an additional collection trip to this archipelago for further sampling and/or investigating the ecology of eDNA in this system.

Policy Impact of Research:

Reefs are highly threatened ecosystems so that knowledge of their biodiversity and the biogeography of organisms inhabiting these environments is a priority regarding their conservation. The project will employ state-of-the-art genetic monitoring tools to investigate the biodiversity and population genetics of tropical fish communities from a key reef system.

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