Thematic Goal 3: Macrosystem eDNA Integration

The coastal macrosystem is an interconnected set of large and complex aquatic ecosystems, that are all affected by physical, chemical and biological processes operating at multiple temporal and spatial scales to shape complex biological communities.  Understanding the ecology of coastal systems at this macrosystem scale is a major challenge in biology and sustainability that will require transdisciplinary team science at scales beyond most typical research today. eDNA provides a potentially powerful new capacity for this understanding due the ability for DNA data to be shared and integrated in ways that are not possible with most other survey data.  From lakes to the ocean and microbes to whales, eDNA is universal to life. But to scale up to macrosystem inference researchers much expand their taxonomic, big data, and team science approaches.  

The future of eDNA science will be leveraging data from many projects into increasingly comprehensive  Big Data sets. Maine-eDNA researchers will push forward new advancements in next generation eDNA-based ecological inference for macrosystems by integrating and analyzing a shared Big Data resource of eDNA data and associated spatiotemporal and environmental data amassed by all research teams. Their plan includes integrating program wide sampling from a set of interconnected coastal habitats across all seasons of the year and taxonomic range.  With this powerful dataset they will conduct comprehensive comparative studies of spatiotemporal dynamics across the full set of interconnected coastal habitats and biodiversity to understand major patterns and drivers of macrosystem stability and resilience.

Researchers in this theme will further pursue eDNA-based understanding of common disturbance events and the microbial community responses that determine their ecosystem outcomes. They will establish capacity to quantify coastal disturbances associated with flooding and exceptional tide events and examine their biogeochemical consequences for nutrient cycling in estuaries. In turn, they will advance eDNA methods for not only characterizing estuarine microbial communities associated with disturbance, but also the gene expression processes underlying their physiological responses. More broadly, this work will advance use of microbial eDNA as powerful biosensors for monitoring and disturbance associated changes in the environment.

eDNA science is bringing together new transdisciplinary teams and partners.  How these teams collaborate and communicate will be important to achieving new ecological understanding and sustainability with eDNA.  To aid this process, this theme includes communication and team science (CaTS) research of our diverse project teams to understand specific communication factors that shape the effectiveness of inter- and transdisciplinary research in eDNA-based ecological inference. In turn these researchers will develop processes for effective and equitable team science processes to aid the Maine-eDNA program and future eDNA research programs. 

In combination, these goals will position Maine at the forefront of the next generation of scalable team science for understanding macrosystems and translating that knowledge to solutions.