An expert-driven framework for applying eDNA tools to improve biosecurity in the Antarctic

Signatories to the Antarctic Treaty System’s Environmental Protocol are committed to preventing incursions of non-native species into Antarctica, but systematic surveillance is rare. Environmental DNA (eDNA) methods provide new opportunities for enhancing detection of non-native species and biosecurity monitoring. To be effective for Antarctic biosecurity, eDNA tests must have appropriate sensitivity and specificity to distinguish non-native from native Antarctic species, and be fit-for-purpose. This requires knowledge of the priority risk species or taxonomic groups for which eDNA surveillance will be informative, validated eDNA assays for those species or groups, and reference DNA sequences for both target non-native and related native Antarctic species. Here, we used an expert elicitation process and decision-by-consensus approach to identify and assess priority biosecurity risks for the Australian Antarctic Program (AAP) in East Antarctica, including identifying high priority non-native species and their potential transport pathways. We determined that the priority targets for biosecurity monitoring were not individual species, but rather broader taxonomic groups such as mussels (Mytilus species), tunicates (Ascidiacea), springtails (Collembola), and grasses (Poaceae). These groups each include multiple species with high risks of introduction to and/or establishment in Antarctica. The most appropriate eDNA methods for the AAP must be capable of detecting a range of species within these high-risk groups (e.g., eDNA metabarcoding). We conclude that the most beneficial Antarctic eDNA biosecurity applications include surveillance of marine species in nearshore environments, terrestrial invertebrates, and biofouling species on vessels visiting Antarctica. An urgent need exists to identify suitable genetic markers for detecting priority species groups, establish baseline terrestrial and marine biodiversity for Antarctic stations, and develop eDNA sampling methods for detecting biofouling organisms


Publication status:
Authors: Clarke, Laurence J., Shaw, Justine D., Suter, Leonie, Atalah, Javier, Bergstrom, Dana M., Biersma, Elisabeth, Convey, Peter ORCIDORCID record for Peter Convey, Greve, Michelle, Holland, Oakes, Houghton, Melissa J., Hughes, Kevin A. ORCIDORCID record for Kevin A. Hughes, Johnston, Emma L., King, Catherine K., McCarthy, Arlie H., McGaughran, Angela, Pertierra, Luis R., Robinson, Sharon A., Sherman, Craig D.H., Stark, Jonathan S., Stevens, Mark I., Strugnell, Jan M., von Ammon, Ulla, Wilson, Nerida G., Zaiko, Anastasija, MacDonald, Anna J.

On this site: Kevin Hughes, Peter Convey
1 October, 2023
Management of Biological Invasions / 14
24pp / 379-402
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