Effective species monitoring method proves useful in Otago study


Haliotis Iris Shell

Genetic information is an essential part of conservation research, but it has proven to be invasive and costly – until now.

A study from the University of Otago compared traditional tissue sampling to environmental DNA sampling to obtain genetic information about the population. He showed that this new approach could help in conservation management.

eDNA is an effective tool for monitoring the presence of species in water – when an animal swims in the ocean, it releases DNA into the environment through feces, mucus or the loss of scales that can be collected and analyzed by researchers.

Image by Clare Adams

Dr Claire Adams

The study’s lead author, Dr Clare Adams, of the Coastal People: Southern Skies Center of Research Excellence, says the group wanted to take this method one step further, obtaining genetic information about a population, specifically the blackfoot pāua.

“We wanted to determine to what extent eDNA methodologies could be used to monitor populations of marine species.

“Conservation research has shown that genetic information is useful for supporting management decisions, but it is difficult to obtain and involves invasive sampling of the very species you hope to protect and manage.

“eDNA methods are becoming cheaper, easier, and less time-consuming than traditional genetic sampling, so they could be used to help monitor the genetic health and biodiversity of populations of target organisms,” says- she.

The study, published in Environmental DNA, took pāua tissue samples and water samples near pāua colonies.

According to Dr. Adams, eDNA has proven to be an effective method for analyzing common genetic variations, although rare genetic variants (present in less than 5% of the population) have been more difficult to detect.

Researchers have focused on the pāua because of its cultural significance to Māori and its commercial importance to the global fishing industry.

“Genetic diversity is critical to monitor because it can tell us about the nature of inbred pāua stocks, as well as gene flow, and can ultimately shed light on evolutionary mechanisms.

“We hope that some of the work done here can help communities monitor their pāua stock.”


Environmental DNA reflects common haplotypic variation

Clare IM Adams, Christopher Hepburn, Gert-Jan Jeunen, Hugh Cross, Helen R. Taylor, Neil J. Gemmell, Michael Bunce, Michael Knapp

Environmental DNA


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