New report explores DNA-based marine benthic monitoring protocols

Published: 22nd February 2023

Natural England and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee commission NatureMetrics to review and protocol DNA-based marine benthic sampling.


Compared with conventional monitoring methods, eDNA has the potential to generate more biodiversity data for less effort. DNA-based monitoring typically provides larger, more comprehensive and consistent datasets. This is especially important when monitoring change over time.

The obvious benefits of eDNA for marine benthic monitoring encouraged Natural England (NE) and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) to contract NatureMetrics to review and protocol DNA-based marine benthic sampling.

There is a particular focus on statutory monitoring. Currently, the Statutory Nature Conservation Bodies (SNCBs) primarily use traditional identification techniques for biodiversity assessment; DNA-based methods would provide broad and significant benefits. These include time and cost savings, and a massive increase in the amount of biodiversity data captured per sample.

Information from more than 80 publications is summarised within this report. It also draws on the substantial practical experiences of the NatureMetrics team. The review was overseen by The Marine Biological Association, Applied Genomics, Thomson environmental consultants, NE, and the JNCC.

Goals of the report

Standardisation is essential when surveying across varying locations and timescales. Low variability in methods enables data interoperability. In turn, this enables robust spatial and temporal analysis. This is essential for understanding the state of our UK Marine Protected Areas.

The protocols outlined in this report are not intended to replace existing sampling methodologies. The goal is to identify the most suitable operational eDNA sampling methodologies that can be applied alongside existing approaches used by JNCC and NE.

A substantial review also outlines the current state of DNA-based marine benthic biomonitoring. The goal is to enable scientists and managers to make informed decisions and maximise the benefits of eDNA.

Who should read this report?

Anyone interested in monitoring biodiversity in marine sediment will find this report useful. It provides a comprehensive overview of the advantages of eDNA-based approaches. These include substantial cost and time savings, broader species detection, and greater sensitivity to ecological changes. It also reviews current limitations, such as the absence of reference barcodes.

For those actively involved in marine biodiversity monitoring, the report lays out the current methodological best practice. This includes recommendations on sampling and preservation methods, contamination considerations, sample size, and record-keeping.

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