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Elucidating the mysterious life of New Zealand eels using environmental DNA methods

Backed by David Lang and WEEMING
$6
Pledged
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Funded
$5,178
Goal
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  • $6
    pledged
  • 1%
    funded
  • 7
    days left

About This Project

Eels are a highly valued fishery, particularly among Māori peoples, and a crucial indicator of environmental health. However, spawning sites and larval dispersal routes of Aoteoroa-New Zealand longfin (Anguilla dieffenbachii) and shortfin (A. australis schmidtii) eels remain unknown. This project aims to model the migration routes and spawning sites of these taonga taxa and assess their vulnerability to climate change by analyzing eDNA and testing a new eDNA sampling device.

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What is the context of this research?

New Zealand longfin eels are an important cultural icon and traditional food resource. Their populations have declined dramatically in recent decades, and migratory animals are particularly vulnerable to environmental degradation from anthropogenic activities. Protecting these eels is of national concern. This project will use a cutting-edge toolbox of novel molecular techniques including environmental DNA and RNA (eDNA and eRNA). Data from molecular methods will be combined with hydrographic data from coastal, estuarine, and freshwater habitats in New Zealand to create models of eel spawning and migration routes. This project will include a research expedition to collect samples from the Western South Pacific Ocean (WSP) in 2024.

What is the significance of this project?

This research is significant in that this species will be caught and detected at newly-spawned stages, which have never been caught in the WSP. Data from this project can be used to provide real-time information to help the government and other institutes design effective environmental management programs. Methods employed in this study can be used to design novel environmental sampling devices and strategies to maximize detection of marine taxa. Because we will be sampling for eel larvae and doing laboratory work during a research cruise, we will be able to correlate biological data with oceanographic data to infer what environmental conditions are necessary for eel spawning. This data will also be used by two PhD students for completion of their theses.

What are the goals of the project?

Funds from this project will be used to pay for an environmental nucleic acid sampling device (TorpeDNA), its equipment, and laboratory equipment to extract genetic data from the samples it generates. This project will support two students working on their PhDs by providing a novel way to sample and analyze eDNA and eRNA. Successful deployment and use of this device will be able to provide a future way of capturing environmental nucleic acids samples in a quicker and more cost-effective way. This will also assist in solving the great mystery on detecting New Zealand longfin eel migrations and spawning sites in the Pacific Ocean. However, we lack funds to purchase this device and laboratory equipment necessary to extract the eDNA and eRNA.

Budget

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The TorpeDNA will be launched as we embark on our research cruise. It requires a mounting fitting, and the nylon membrane inserts will be used to filter seawater and collect eDNA samples. After samples have been collected, DNA and RNA will be extracted using the DNA extraction and RNA miniprep kits. The samples will then undergo PCR using the PCR mix and Taq Polymerase to generate environmental genetic data gathered by the TorpeDNA. This data can be compared with data from samples conventionally collected through a CTD Rosette to determine if eDNA sampling can be made more efficient through better technology. Sequencing libraries can be generated to prepare samples for sequencing, which will be sequenced using other funds. Even though this project is primarily funded by a Marsden grant, we have no funds to secure the TorpeDNA or the laboratory equipment to process the samples it generates. Thus, funds from the eDNA Collective grant are essential.

Endorsed by

This is some of the research my lab partner and I are doing for our theses!

Project Timeline

On our research expedition, we will launch the TorpeDNA in increments of five minutes and compare the data it generates to data from samples obtained by a CTD rosette on our floating laboratory. We will be at sea for 36 days in total and use that time to collect and compare our DNA data. As we lack capacity to extract and analyze RNA data on the research vessel, that will be carried out once we return to New Zealand. We expect to finish data collection and analyses by March 2025.

Mar 27, 2024

Project Launched

Oct 16, 2024

Begin research expedition

Nov 20, 2024

End research expedition

Feb 01, 2025

Finish sample extraction

Mar 01, 2025

Complete sample sequencing

Meet the Team

Therese Miller
Therese Miller
PhD Student

Affiliates

University of Auckland, Institute of Marine Science; Cawthron Institute
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Alexandre Che
Alexandre Che
PhD Student

Affiliates

Auckland University of Technology, Department of Environmental Science
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Team Bio

We have been fortunate as students to be selected as a PhD pair. Our project is to work together throughout our PhD as a team to answer ecological questions by developing and using new methods in the western South Pacific Ocean, focusing on the fascinating New Zealand eels.

Therese Miller

I am a PhD student at the University of Auckland Institute of Marine Science. My thesis aims to unveil migratory routes and spawning sites of New Zealand longfin eel, Anguilla dieffenbachii, through use of environmental DNA and RNA. A wider aim of this project is to make the use of eDNA and eRNA more broadly available to the public, particularly Pacific islands, which are particularly vulnerable to environmental degradation but often don't have the monetary means to carry out high throughput laboratory and genetic work.

Alexandre Che

Coming from a tropical island, I rapidly became aware of the issues facing our oceans and decided to get involved with species that require our particular attention. As a student, my focus has been on using and developing indirect methods to understand the ecology of rare species and address challenges in marine ecology. Presently, my research as a PhD student involves the use and development of stable isotope analysis and eDNA/eRNA methods to understand the enigmatic oceanic migrations of New Zealand eels.

Lab Notes

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