Using a method that could aid in the early detection of non-native species if adopted widely, a team of scientists from the University of Southampton, Bangor University and the National Oceanography Centre were able to discover several artificially introduced species in the coastal waters of southern England.
Led by Luke Holman, a PhD student at the University of Southampton, the researchers collected water and sediments from four marinas around the UK and analyzed the DNA of each sample. This was done in order to determine which species had been present in the ecosystems.
Organisms leave traces of their DNA in water systems through a variety of means, for example fish can lose scales and many species can release sperm or eggs during the spawning season. The team were able to extract this genetic material, known as environmental DNA (eDNA), and compare it to global DNA databases to identify the presence of species.
Luke Holman said "We are enormously excited about the potential for eDNA in the detection of invasive species. This initial work gives us confidence that the technique could be invaluable both for catching invasions early on and also for monitoring the success of eradication efforts."
If not caught early, invasive species can have devastating effects on the country's native wildlife habitats. For example, Asian date mussels can alter sediment through the thread like cocoons they produce which weave together and change the seafloor from a muddy to a thick, sandy material. This in turn changes the creatures that inhabit the area.
(Image Credit: Luke Holman, University of Southampton)