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What Seawater Can Tell Us About Life Below the Surface

Surface of the sea with the Sun setting on the horizon.
Credit: Pixabay.

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Seawater holds “memories” in the form of DNA from fish and invertebrates that have recently passed by. This information, called environmental DNA or eDNA, can be used by scientists to track species across space. This new approach is being used by researchers like McGill Professor Jennifer Sunday and her colleagues at the Pacific eDNA Coastal Observatory (PECO) to track “biogeography” like we forecast the weather. The PECO network has been collecting seawater in bottles from Juneau, Alaska to San Diego, California to find out which fish live where and how these change over time, focusing on seagrass habitats across this large coastal region. With this information, the researchers will survey the geographic distributions of hundreds of fish and gain a better understanding of how species live together in different environments – as potential consumers, competitors, and invasive species – all from bottles of water. “Networks like PECO could mark the start of a new frontier in tracking underwater biodiversity. Groups like these are forming around the world,” says Sunday, who is Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology.

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