Fingerprinting Marine Macrophytes in Blue Carbon Habitats

  • Alejandra Ortega

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


Seagrass, mangrove, saltmarshes and macroalgae - the coastal vegetated habitats, offer a promising nature-based solution to climate change mitigation, as they sequester carbon in their living biomass and in marine sediments. Estimation of the macrophyte organic carbon contribution to coastal sediments is key for understanding the sources of blue carbon sequestration, and for establishing adequate conservation strategies. Nevertheless,identification of marine macrophytes has been challenging and current estimations are uncertain. In this dissertation, time- and cost-efficient DNA-based methods were used to fingerprint marine macrophytes and estimate their contribution to the organic pool accumulated in blue carbon habitats. First, a suitable short-length DNA barcode from the universal 18S gene was chosen among six barcoding regions tested, as it successfully recovered degraded DNA from sediment samples and fingerprinted marine macrophyte taxa. Second, an experiment was performed to test whether the abundance of eDNA represents the content of organic carbon within the macrophytes; results supported this notion, indicating a positive correlation (R2 = 0.85) between eDNA and organic carbon. Third, using the chosen barcode, eDNA of marine macrophyte was identified from sediments of seagrass meadows and mangrove forests in the Arabian Red Sea, to further estimate contributions to the organic carbon pools. Estimations based on eDNA were compared against estimations of organic carbon based on stable isotope analyses from the same sediments; results from both methods were similar. In addition, this research provided the first quantitative evidence of the contribution of macroalgae to coastal and oceanic carbon pools. Hitherto, macroalgae have been ignored in blue carbon assessments because their fingerprinting was challenging and there was no evidence of their carbon export. The results of this dissertation demonstrate that eDNA offers an unprecedent taxonomic discrimination, and resolve the contribution of marine macrophytes to the organic pools in blue carbon sediments.
Date of AwardNov 2019
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Biological, Environmental Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorCarlos Duarte (Supervisor)


  • eDNA
  • Macroalgae
  • Blue Carbon
  • Seagrass
  • Mangrove
  • Barcoding

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