Title:

Can DNA from routine plankton surveys be used to measure fish spawning areas and monitor changes in pelagic ecosystems?

Project Number:

2019-014

Organisation:

University of Adelaide

Principal Investigator:

Timothy M. Ward

Project Status:

Current

FRDC Expenditure:

$403,902.60

Program(s):

Environment

Need

The National Marine Science Plan (NMSP) 2015-2025 identified the need to establish a National Marine Baselines and Monitoring Program to support future management of Australia's marine estate and growth of the blue economy. The NMSP emphasised that an innovative, broad-based approach to funding will be needed to address the breadth of challenges and beneficiaries that will drive future research and monitoring initiatives. Establishing cost-effective, broad-scale monitoring programs in key regions is a pragmatic way to progress this "priority initiative" in the absence of a formal national overarching program. The need for broad-scale ecological monitoring is particularly pressing off south-eastern Australia, where most Australian's live, the impacts from climate change are highest and many important marine industries are located. Broad-scale ichthyoplankton surveys undertaken routinely to support management of the SPF and SASF cover almost the entire continental shelf (>350,000 square kilometres) between Sandy Cape, Fraser Island and the Head of Bight (Attachment 1). These surveys are expensive to conduct (>$200,000 each). Currently, only a tiny fraction of the information about the marine environment collected during the surveys is harvested to produce datasets that could be used support management of Australia's marine estate and growth of the blue economy. Additional information could be obtained from samples collected during surveys at relatively low marginal cost. This project is needed to evaluate the potential for using DNA-metabarcoding to harvest ecological data from routine broad-scale ichthyoplankton surveys to: 1) Monitor the spawning area and characterise the spawning habitat of data-poor fisheries species off south-eastern Australia; 2) Monitor the responses of the fish assemblage to future changes in environmental conditions and the impacts of new developments. The project is also needed to determine if future surveys could be used as a basis for applying the DEPM to other species. The modern broad-scale, low-cost approach to monitoring outlined in this proposal will complement and enhance the current National Ichthyoplankton Monitoring and Observing (NIMO) initiative.

Objectives

1. Evaluate the potential for using DNA-metabarcoding of routine broad-scale ichthyoplankton surveys to characterise the spawning habitat and monitor the spawning area of key fish species.

2. Evaluate the potential for using DNA-metabarcoding of routine broad-scale ichthyoplankton surveys to monitor the responses of pelagic ecosystems to climate change and other pressures.