Marine biomonitoring with eDNA: Can metabarcoding of water samples cut it as a tool for surveying benthic communities?

Antich, AdriàPalacín, CruzCebrian, Emma Golo, RaülWangensteen, Owen S.Turon, Xavier. Molecular Ecology : doi:10.1111/mec.15641 (2020)  DIGITAL CSIC

In the marine realm, biomonitoring using environmental DNA (eDNA) of benthic communities requires destructive direct sampling or the setting-up of settlement structures. Comparatively much less effort is required to sample the water column, which can be accessed remotely. In this study we assess the feasibility of obtaining information from the eukaryotic benthic communities by sampling the adjacent water layer. We studied two different rocky-substrate benthic communities with a technique based on quadrat sampling. We also took replicate water samples at four distances (0, 0.5, 1.5, and 20 m) from the benthic habitat. Using broad range primers to amplify a ca. 313 bp fragment of the cytochrome oxidase subunit I gene, we obtained a total of 3,543 molecular operational taxonomic units (MOTUs). The structure obtained in the two environments was markedly different, with Metazoa, Archaeplastida and Stramenopiles being the most diverse groups in benthic samples, and Hacrobia, Metazoa and Alveolata in the water. Only 265 MOTUs (7.5%) were shared between benthos and water samples and, of these, 180 (5.1%) were identified as benthic taxa that left their DNA in the water. Most of them were found immediately adjacent to the benthos, and their number decreased as we moved apart from the benthic habitat. It was concluded that water eDNA, even in the close vicinity of the benthos, was a poor proxy for the analysis of benthic structure, and that direct sampling methods are required for monitoring these complex communities via metabarcoding.