Marine environmental DNA biomonitoring reveals seasonal patterns in biodiversity and identifies ecosystem responses to anomalous climatic events
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Marine ecosystems are changing rapidly as the oceans warm and become more acidic. The physical factors and the changes to ocean chemistry that they drive can all be measured with great precision. Changes in the biological composition of communities in different ocean regions are far more challenging to measure because most biological monitoring methods focus on a limited taxonomic or size range. Environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis has the potential to solve this problem in biological oceanography, as it is capable of identifying a huge phylogenetic range of organisms to species level. Here we develop and apply a novel multi-gene molecular toolkit to eDNA isolated from bulk plankton samples collected over a five-year period from a single site. This temporal scale and level of detail is unprecedented in eDNA studies. We identified consistent seasonal assemblages of zooplankton species, which demonstrates the ability of our toolkit to audit community composition. We were also able to detect clear departures from the regular seasonal patterns that occurred during an extreme marine heatwave. The integration of eDNA analyses with existing biotic and abiotic surveys delivers a powerful new long-term approach to monitoring the health of our world's oceans in the context of a rapidly changing climate.
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