Availability of high quality monitoring data for fish stock assessment is critical for the sound management of fisheries resources. Data from ichthyoplankton surveys are a unique component of the stock assessment and management, which provide crucial information on spawning areas and seasons, spawning stocks and expected recruitment. The recently developed high-throughput sequencing (HTS) technology enabled a suite of prospective DNA-based applications of high potential for improving biomonitoring, compared to current approaches. These cutting-edge technologies have the potential to circumvent the uncertainty of the traditional morphology-based identifications of ichthyoplankton species, providing highly accurate identifications, better detection ability and greater throughput, hence allowing monitoring with greater spatial and temporal frequency. Additionally, remote and non-destructive detection of marine fish species is now achievable through the analyses of traces of fish in environmental DNA (eDNA) isolated from seawater. The current proposal aims to develop and implement a DNA metabarcoding method for species profiling of ichthyoplankton, and to explore the utility of eDNA for monitoring marine fish communities. The research plan is divided in two main phases; the first one will be dedicated to reference library completion and methods optimization and calibration, and the second one to the pilot implementation study. As a result of the project, a tailored protocol will be devised for implementation of DNA metabarcoding in ichthyoplankton surveys, namely of the national and other fisheries research institutes. A pilot assessment will be made on the utility of eDNA for marine fish monitoring, together with an account of possible additional research needs for its full implementation in routine monitoring practice in parallel with ichthyoplankton surveys. A subsidiary goal of the proposal is to constitute the first step for the establishment of an Atlantic network for marine fish monitoring in the scope of the Atlantic Interactions, using DNA-based and other approaches. Once fully established, this network will provide broad-scale data to support scientific advise on sustainable management and conservation of fisheries resources and fish biodiversity all through the Atlantic. To accomplish these goals a partnership was established between academic, research and governmental institutions in Portugal, Cape Verde and Brazil, therefore assuring direct application of the project's research and output. The multidisciplinary project's team integrates research experts covering the full sweep of competences and scientific background involved in the project's topics, namely in DNA-based approaches for biomonitoring, ichthyoplankton identification and ecology, fish ecology and fisheries research, bioinformatics and statistics.
Develop and implement a DNA metabarcoding method for species profiling of ichthyoplankton, and to explore the utility of eDNA for monitoring marine fish communities.