How can we better (more efficiently, reliably, comprehensively) measure marine biodiversity?
After spending lots of time with species taxonomy flashcards for my past visual-based biodiversity projects, I wanted to explore a molecular approach. For my senior thesis, I worked with collaborators from Rice University and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) to sample seawater for environmental DNA (eDNA) to examine fish and animal biodiversity simultaneously in Bocas del Toro, Panama. This eDNA sampling effort was paired with underwater visual censuses of fish as a methods comparison. We found that different sites, habitats, and regions were distinguishable from one another using eDNA, which also proved to be a highly sensitive tool for enumerating more than 8,000 operational taxonomic units (OTUs). This project was funded by a Wagoner Foreign Study Scholarship and STRI.