Aquaculture activities have a direct effect on the marine environments, threatening the health of the ecosystem, which in turn can affect fish production itself. Traditionally, morpho-taxonomic characterization of macrofaunal communities has been widely used to assess environmental impacts associated to fish farming. However, traditional methods are time consuming, expensive, and rely on highly specialized taxonomists. Aquatic biomonitoring has drastically changed with the advent of High Throughput Sequencing (HTS) technologies and environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding is increasingly being used for community characterization, due to its sensitivity, repeatability, and cost-effectiveness. But, much work remains to be done to supplement traditional surveys with eDNA metabarcoding techniques. In Aqua-Impact, we will synthesise research to support management around aquaculture sites in the high North. To provide new knowledge regarding the environmental impacts of industrial development in this area, we will validate the application of innovative molecular tools, using traditional morphological assessments, oceanographic data, and the curation of a novel genetic database for eDNA biomonitoring in the high North. Aqua-Impact represents an expansion of an already funded and ongoing project (PATHOGEN, UiT) which uses eDNA metabarcoding of seawater and sediments to assess the impacts of aquaculture on ecosystem composition during a whole cycle of production and aims at developing early-detection systems for disease outbreaks. We expect Aqua-Impact to provide baselines for the implementation of eDNA metabarcoding in biomonitoring programs of aquaculture ecosystem impact. Aqua-Impact is also expected to deliver a master thesis and two articles in peer-reviewed journals.
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