eDNA & Elasmobranch Biodiversity
Project start: 2022-01-01
Project length: 36 MONTHS
Total project budget: 415,500 ZAR
SEAstarter funding: 415,500 ZAR (100%)
Regional focus: South Africa
The South African coastline is among the top five global hot spots for elasmobranch biodiversity, and considered a living laboratory for assessing the effect and impact of rapidly occurring climate changes. The subclass of elasmobranchs incorporates all species of cartilaginous fish - like sharks, rays, skates and sawfish. Assessments of biodiversity of elusive species, such as elasmobranchs and especially sharks, are notoriously challenging, which limits data availability and hamper their conservation effort. Traditional ways to monitor elasmobranchs biodiversity rely on reports from the fishing industry or ad-hoc research expeditions all of which being time consuming and often expensive. In contrast, novel cutting edge genetic analyses, using environmental DNA (eDNA), is rapidly becoming a non-lethal, relatively cheap and efficient alternative to traditional methods, for assessing local marine biodiversity.
Environmental DNA or eDNA is defined as DNA material shed by an animal to its environment. By taking samples of the environment, in this case water samples, we are able to identify the species present in the proximity by amplifying DNA fragments dissolved in the water. To date eDNA hasn't been used in South Africa to assess shark biodiversity, thus this study aims to provide the baseline for the application of this cutting-edge technique for efficient shark monitoring.
South Africa, positioned between the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean, is considered a climate change hotspot, with rapid modifications in environmental and oceanographic conditions, suspected to be impacting the distribution of marine species. The presence of approximately 200 shark species distributed around the South African coastline, with different evolutionary history, biology and adaptation potential, makes this group the ideal study subject.
(Shark photography by Harry Stone)
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