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Hidden hotspots of large marine vertebrates within the Lord Howe Marine Park

Using environmental DNA to reveal and conserve hidden hotspots of large marine vertebrates within the Lord Howe Marine Park

 

Despite the ecological and economic importance of New South Wales' World Heritage Listed Lord Howe Island (LHI) and its surrounding state and Commonwealth marine parks, there is currently a paucity of baseline data regarding the ebb and flow if its marine fauna.

 

Whilst inshore coral-associated species have been well documented through historical biodiversity surveys, little effort has been applied to monitoring the marine vertebrate species inhabiting or utilising the waters of the marine park, which include commercially important teleost fishes as well as resident and/or transient marine mammals and elasmobranch fishes (i.e. sharks and rays).

 

This project will address this knowledge gap by establishing a baseline of marine vertebrate species detected in LHI’s state and Commonwealth marine parks via state-of-the-art environmental DNA (eDNA) and Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) monitoring, tracing this faunal community across seasons and years.

 

Scientists use DNA barcodes to investigate which species are found in different environments.Substances found in the environment, such as water, soil, saliva, or faeces can contain DNA from the species living there. This DNA can come from the hair, scales, skin, saliva or waste products of the organisms in that environment. DNA collected from the environment is called environmental DNA (eDNA).

Once extracted and sequenced, the inherent information embedded within the DNA provides a lens through which to study the fish and mammals that were present within that environment at or around the time of sampling. 

 

The first field trip conducted in January saw the team successfully collect and process 25 eDNA samples from the state Lord Howe Island Marine Park. The team is now hard at work analysing these samples to find out what species were detected in the waters surrounding LHI – stay tuned for more updates!

 

This project is funded through a grant from the Sea World Research and Rescue Foundation.  SIMS and the Australian Museum are partners on this, with support from  NSW DPI Marine Parks and Parks Australia.

The project is led by Dr Fabrice Jaine (SIMS) and Dr Joseph DiBattista from the Australian Museum.