DNA Analysis Unveils Rich Biodiversity in Mediterranean Lagoon

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by InTrieste

In a pioneering study, scientists have for the first time used genetic analysis to identify the fish species inhabiting the Marano and Grado Lagoon, one of the Mediterranean’s most significant coastal wetlands. This groundbreaking research, conducted under the Interreg Italy – Croatia ARGOS project, marks a significant advancement in the understanding and conservation of this delicate ecosystem.

The study, a collaborative effort among various research institutions, utilized environmental DNA (eDNA) – genetic material that organisms shed into their surroundings – to catalog the lagoon’s aquatic biodiversity. This method, praised for its efficacy and non-invasiveness, was employed by a team from the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics (OGS), commissioned by the Autonomous Region of Friuli Venezia Giulia.

“Molecular analysis has proven to be as reliable as traditional sampling methods,” said Elisa Banchi, a researcher from OGS’s Oceanography Section and the study’s lead author. “We used eDNA metabarcoding, a technique that identifies species from water samples, and compared it with traditional net fishing. This dual approach provided comprehensive data on biodiversity.”

Published in the journal Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, the study signifies a leap forward in ecological research. It reveals a detailed picture of the lagoon’s fish fauna, informing future conservation and management strategies. “This pilot study offers a framework that can be expanded,” added Valentina Tirelli, OGS researcher and study coordinator. “The molecular approach combined with traditional methods yielded crucial insights.”

The Marano and Grado Lagoon, with its unique mix of brackish waters and diverse habitats, has long been recognized as a biodiversity hotspot. Yet, until now, a full inventory of its fish species remained elusive. The integration of eDNA technology is changing that narrative, enhancing the ability to detect even rare and non-native species.

“Integrating genetic tools with traditional monitoring enriches our understanding of local biodiversity,” noted Sergio Stefanni, researcher at the Anton Dohrn Zoological Station and co-author of the study. “This study exemplifies the synergy of complementary expertise, vital for sustainable fisheries management.”

The research was part of the ARGOS project, funded by the Interreg V-A Italy-Croatia CBC Program (2014–2020), and supported by the National Biodiversity Future Center (NBFC) under Italy’s National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR). This initiative underscores a broader commitment to leveraging advanced scientific techniques for environmental stewardship.

As the scientific community celebrates this milestone, the Marano and Grado Lagoon stands as a testament to the power of innovation in uncovering nature’s secrets. This study not only enriches our understanding of this precious ecosystem but also sets a precedent for future research in the field of environmental DNA analysis.

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