Estuarine molecular bycatch as a landscape-wide biomonitoring tool

S Mariani, L R Harper, R A Collins, C Baillie, O S Wangensteen, A D McDevitt, M Heddell-Cowie, M J Genner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review


Environmental DNA analysis is rapidly transforming biodiversity monitoring and bolstering conservation applications worldwide. This approach has been assisted by the development of metabarcoding PCR primers that are suited for detection of a wide range of taxa. However, little effort has gone into exploring the value of the non-target DNA sequences that are generated in every survey, but subsequently discarded. Here we demonstrate that fish-targeted markers widely employed in aquatic biomonitoring can also detect birds and mammals present in the surrounding habitats. We showcase this feature in three temperate estuaries over multiple seasons, where dozens of bird and mammal species offer valuable insights into spatial and temporal faunal variation. Our results indicate that existing metabarcode sequence data sets are suitable for mining and exploration of this ‘molecular by-catch’, and that future eDNA-based surveys can be designed to accommodate this enhanced property of this widely applicable tool.
Original languageEnglish
Article number109287
Number of pages8
JournalBiological Conservation
Early online date13 Aug 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by ‘SeaDNA’ grants NE/N005759/1 and NE/N005937/1 , from the UK Natural Environment Research Council , to SM and MG. We thank Ana Soto, Naiara Sales, Riccardo Lollobrigidi, Hanna Westoby, Barry Byatt and other Environmental Agency staff for sampling support, and the Percie Journal Club members for offering constructive criticism on an earlier draft of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021


  • biomonitoring
  • birds
  • coastal
  • conservation
  • environmental DNA
  • estuaries
  • mammals
  • metabarcoding


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