Environmental DNA metabarcoding: Transforming how we survey animal and plant communities

Kristy Deiner, Holly M. Bik, Elvira Mächler, Mathew Seymour, Anaïs Lacoursière-Roussel, Florian Altermatt, Simon Creer, Iliana Bista, David M. Lodge, Natasha De Vere, Michael E. Pfrender, Louis Bernatchez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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The genomic revolution has fundamentally changed how we survey biodiversity on earth. High-throughput sequencing (“HTS”) platforms now enable the rapid sequencing of DNA from diverse kinds of environmental samples (termed “environmental DNA” or “eDNA”). Coupling HTS with our ability to associate sequences from eDNA with a taxonomic name is called “eDNA metabarcoding” and offers a powerful molecular tool capable of noninvasively surveying species richness from many ecosystems. Here, we review the use of eDNA metabarcoding for surveying animal and plant richness, and the challenges in using eDNA approaches to estimate relative abundance. We highlight eDNA applications in freshwater, marine and terrestrial environments, and in this broad context, we distill what is known about the ability of different eDNA sample types to approximate richness in space and across time. We provide guiding questions for study design and discuss the eDNA metabarcoding workflow with a focus on primers and library preparation methods. We additionally discuss important criteria for consideration of bioinformatic filtering of data sets, with recommendations for increasing transparency. Finally, looking to the future, we discuss emerging applications of eDNA metabarcoding in ecology, conservation, invasion biology, biomonitoring, and how eDNA metabarcoding can empower citizen science and biodiversity education
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5872-5895
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number21
Early online date26 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 16 Nov 2017


  • bioinformatic pipeline
  • biomonitoring
  • citizen science
  • conservation
  • ecology
  • eDNA
  • invasive species
  • macro-organism
  • species richness


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