Assessing eukaryotic biodiversity in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary through environmental DNA metabarcoding

Natalie A. Sawaya, Anni Djurhuus, C.J Closek, Megan Hepner, Emily Olesin, Lindsey Visser, Christopher Kelble, Katherine Hubbard, Mya Breitbart

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


Environmental DNA (eDNA) is the DNA suspended in the environment (e.g., water column), which includes cells, gametes, and other material derived from but not limited to shedding of tissue, scales, mucus, and fecal matter. Amplifying and sequencing marker genes (i.e., metabarcoding) from eDNA can reveal the wide range of taxa present in an ecosystem through analysis of a single water sample. Metabarcoding of eDNA provides higher resolution data than visual surveys, aiding in assessments of ecosystem health. This study conducted eDNA metabarcoding of two molecular markers (cytochrome c oxidase I (COI) and 18S ribosomal RNA (rRNA) genes) to survey eukaryotic diversity across multiple trophic levels in surface water samples collected at three sites along the coral reef tract within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) during four research cruises in 2015. The 18S rRNA gene sequences recovered 785 genera while the COI gene sequences recovered 115 genera, with only 33 genera shared between the two datasets, emphasizing the complementarity of these marker genes. Community composition for both genetic markers clustered by month of sample collection, suggesting that temporal variation has a larger effect on biodiversity than spatial variability in the FKNMS surface waters. Sequences from both marker genes were dominated by copepods, but each marker recovered distinct phytoplankton groups, with 18S rRNA gene sequences dominated by dinoflagellates and COI sequences dominated by coccolithophores. Although eDNA samples were collected from surface waters, many benthic species such as sponges, crustaceans, and corals were identified. These results show the utility of eDNA metabarcoding for cataloging biodiversity to establish an ecosystem baseline against which future samples can be compared in order to monitor community changes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1029-1040
Number of pages12
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


  • eDNA
  • 18S rRNA gene
  • cytochrome c oxidase I
  • monitoring


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