UCLA-led study leads to new genetic library created for mega-ecosystem in Pacific Ocean

July 8, 2021

The California Current supports a mega-ecosystem in the Pacific Ocean. Beyond ecological benefits, this habitat is the basis for $56 billion in annual economic output and over 675,000 jobs. A recent study published in Molecular Ecology Resources, led by UCLA researchers, led to the creation of massive genetic library and made use of a more efficient identification method.

Image Source: Zack Gold

Traditionally, organisms must be counted by hand as divers use physical characteristics to identify species. The new technique expedites the process by using environmental DNA (eDNA), genetic material which organisms shed into their environments. Researchers are able to collect samples of ocean water and determine what species are present. The primary limitation to this method is that there must be existing identified samples to cross-references with the eDNA. Additionally, it is currently unclear whether eDNA can be used to determine abundance, how many individuals of each species are present.

Despite any limitations, this catalogue and technique for identifying species presence is an important breakthrough. The genetic library identifies 605 species present in the California Current, including 275 not previously catalogued. Additionally, it will allow researchers, conservationists, fisheries, and wildlife managers to understand species and ecosystem dynamics more quickly and cost-effectively. This includes being able to identify hotspots where certain species should be better protected.

Learn more at UCLA Newsroom.

Study Authors

Zachary Gold, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCLA

Emily E. Curd, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCLA

Paul H. Barber, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UCLA

Kelly D. Goodwin, Ocean Chemistry and Ecosystems Division, Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Emma S. Choi, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD

Benjamin W. Frable, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD

Andrew R. Thompson, Southwest Fisheries Science Center, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Harold J. Walker Jr., Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD

Ronald S. Burton, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD

Dovi Kacev, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD

Lucas D. Martz, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD