David Mouillot is a Professor at the University of Montpellier (UMR MARBEC IRD-UM-CNRS-IFREMER).
What will you be researching, and why?
Our project will focus on marine megafauna (mainly large bony fishes, sharks and mammals) living close to reefs and seamounts. Megafauna is certainly the most vulnerable group of species to fishing activities and global changes with ¼ of species being under extinction threat. This urges unprecedented conservation efforts. These efforts cannot be efficient without a better knowledge of the biogeography and habitat use for most of these species. Yet, current data are mainly based on fisheries and local observations. A new protocol, non-destructive, non-intrusive, providing standardized information on all species, will allow us to identify the last refugia of marine megafauna, if any.
How will you carry this out technically?
Environmental DNA (eDNA) is genetic material originating from organisms that can be filtered from water samples. It comes from feces, mucus, blood, and sloughed cells, tissue, and in some cases can be attached to particles. We will collect eDNA close to reefs and seamounts using pumps and filters and then we will extract, amplify and sequence eDNA. Then, these sequences will be analysed to identify species present in the sampled seawater. In parallel, we will need to build a reference database to accurately identify species in eDNA by catching individuals and sequencing some parts of their genome.
How is the Monaco Explorations Campaign enabling your research?
Because of the opportunity with Monaco Explorations and the characteristics of the Yersin, we will be able to reach and sample isolated reefs and deep waters which are still largely unknown ecosystems for their megafauna. The Yersin will be the first platform “at sea” to analyse biodiversity in real time with dedicated laboratories and materials on board. Also, the ability to do sequencing of eDNA is extremely helpful as it is the most limiting factor in classical research projects.