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This content will become publicly available on May 15, 2025

Title: Using low volume eDNA methods to sample pelagic marine animal assemblages

Environmental DNA (eDNA) is an increasingly useful method for detecting pelagic animals in the ocean but typically requires large water volumes to sample diverse assemblages. Ship-based pelagic sampling programs that could implement eDNA methods generally have restrictive water budgets. Studies that quantify how eDNA methods perform on low water volumes in the ocean are limited, especially in deep-sea habitats with low animal biomass and poorly described species assemblages. Using 12S rRNA and COI gene primers, we quantified assemblages comprised of micronekton, coastal forage fishes, and zooplankton from low volume eDNA seawater samples (n = 436, 380–1800 mL) collected at depths of 0–2200 m in the southern California Current. We compared diversity in eDNA samples to concurrently collected pelagic trawl samples (n = 27), detecting a higher diversity of vertebrate and invertebrate groups in the eDNA samples. Differences in assemblage composition could be explained by variability in size-selectivity among methods and DNA primer suitability across taxonomic groups. The number of reads and amplicon sequences variants (ASVs) did not vary substantially among shallow (<200 m) and deep samples (>600 m), but the proportion of invertebrate ASVs that could be assigned a species-level identification decreased with sampling depth. Using hierarchical clustering, we resolved horizontal and vertical variability in marine animal assemblages from samples characterized by a relatively low diversity of ecologically important species. Low volume eDNA samples will quantify greater taxonomic diversity as reference libraries, especially for deep-dwelling invertebrate species, continue to expand.

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Gorokhova, Elena
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National Science Foundation
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