[MARMAM] Presenting our new publication

Dóra Székely dora.szekely at science.ku.dk
Tue Feb 9 04:19:50 PST 2021

Dear MARMAN team,

We would like to present our newest publication, where you can read about how sampling the “footprints” of bowhead whales for environmental DNA has proven to be a useful way of obtaining genetic data.

Székely, D., Corfixen, N.L., Mørch, L.L., Knudsen, S.W., McCarthy, M.L., Teilmann, J., Heide‐Jørgensen, M.P. and Olsen, M.T., 2021. Environmental DNA captures the genetic diversity of bowhead whales (Balaena mysticetus) in West Greenland. Environmental DNA.


Environmental changes are prominent in Arctic ecosystems, where the distribution, abundance, life history and health of marine organisms such as the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) is tightly connected to sea ice and sea temperature. However, due to the logistical challenges of data collection in the Arctic, appropriate assessments of the past, present and current effects of climate change and human activities are lacking for many Arctic species. Environmental DNA (eDNA) is emerging as a non-invasive and cost-effective way of obtaining genetic material from the environment and has the potential to complement traditional methods for biodiversity and genetic monitoring. In this study, we investigate if eDNA isolated from seawater samples has the capacity to capture the genetic diversity of bowhead whales in Disko Bay, West Greenland, for implementation of long-term genetic monitoring programmes of key Arctic marine species. A total of 41 eDNA ‘footprint’ samples were obtained from the water surface after a whale had dived and an additional 54 eDNA samples were collected along transect lines. Samples were screened for bowhead DNA using a species-specific qPCR primer and probe assay, and a subset of 30 samples were successfully Sanger sequenced to generate individual mitochondrial control region haplotypes. Moreover, by shotgun sequencing ten footprint samples on an Illumina NovaSeq platform we show that footprints generally contain less than 1% endogenous DNA, resulting in partial mitochondrial genomes in four samples out of ten samples. Our findings suggest that sampling in the footprint or wake of travelling animals is a promising method for capturing the genetic diversity of bowhead whales and other marine megafauna. With optimisation of sampling and target-DNA sequencing for higher endogenous DNA yield, seawater eDNA samples have a large potential for implementation in the long-term population genetic monitoring of marine megafauna in the Arctic and elsewhere.

Full article can be accessed (open access):

Kind regards,

Dóra Székely
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