Environmental DNA (eDNA)

The marine environment of Maldives is characterised by a rich biodiversity still not fully described and its coral reef ecosystem is one of the most productive and various, hosting from microscopic plankton to large marine mammals. However, these ecosystems are as beautiful as delicate and complex.

All conservation efforts to save biodiversity essentially depend on the monitoring of species and populations to obtain reliable distribution patterns and population size estimates. Such monitoring has traditionally relied on physical identification of species by visual surveys and counting of individuals. However, traditional monitoring techniques remain problematic due to difficulties associated with correct identification of cryptic species or juvenile life stages, a continuous decline in taxonomic expertise, non-standardized sampling, and the invasive nature of some survey techniques.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis is one of the most rapidly emerging genomic tools for biodiversity assessment. The technique relies on the analysis of DNA traces left by any organism in the surrounding environment (marine water for aquatic organisms). In the context of marine ecosystems, eDNA may offer complementary alternatives to other established approaches (e.g. morpho-taxonomy, telemetry and population surveys) to evaluating the spatial distribution of biodiversity.

Moreover, eDNA had some added values, such as the ability to survey for multiple species simultaneously (metabarcoging), and across time series and large spatial areas at relatively low cost, with an absolutely non-invasive approach, allowing also for the collection and analysis of samples collected during night hours, when many previously undescribed phenomena may and do occur.