Since 2010, considerable efforts have been undertaken to monitor the environmental status of European marine waters and ensuring the development of methodological standards for the evaluation of this status. However, the current routine biomonitoring implicates time-consuming and costly manual sorting and morphological identification of benthic macrofauna. Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding represents an alternative to the traditional monitoring method with very promising results. Here, we tested it further by performing eDNA metabarcoding of benthic eukaryotic communities in the vicinity of two offshore oil and gas platforms in the North Sea. Three different genetic markers (18S V1V2, 18S V9 and COI) were used to assess the environmental pressures induced by the platforms. All markers showed patterns of alpha and beta diversity consistent with morphology-based macrofauna analyses. In particular, the communities structure inferred from metabarcoding and morphological data significantly changed along distance gradients from the platforms. The impact of the operational discharges was also detected by the variation of biotic indices values, AMBI index showing the best correlation between morphological and eDNA datasets. Finally, the sediment physicochemical parameters were used to build a local de novo pressure index that served as benchmark to test the potential of a taxonomy-free approach. Our study demonstrates that metabarcoding approach outperforms morphology-based approach and can be used as a cost and time-saving alternative solution to the traditional morphology-based monitoring in order to monitor more efficiently the impact of industrial activities on marine biodiversity.
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