Research Projects 2018-2020

Harnessing environmental DNA for healthy reefs

Co-INVESTIGATOR: Michelle Gaither
Graduate Trainee: Cassie Lyons

Colorful fish swim around coral of various varietiesThis proposal is to use environmental DNA (eDNA) to monitor the health of coral reefs in protected and non-protected areas around the Hawaiian Islands. All organisms shed eDNA, and we can capture it with water samples taken above the reef. We then use that eDNA as a barcode to identify which species are present, even the cryptic and rare species hidden inside the reef. This is an exciting new approach that can reveal the presence of species that elude conventional field surveys. We can also track the overall biodiversity on reefs to look for changes over time in response to coastal development, climate change, and other stressors. Monitoring reefs with eDNA will allow scientists to evaluate coastal development and the health of reefs that provide sustenance and protection to coastal communities. Like taking the vital signs of a medical patient, eDNA can take the vital signs of a reef, to evaluate changes before they become severe or catastrophic.