GEANS strives to implement DNA-based tools in routine monitoring programs in support of policy and decision making concerning ecosystem health. Six work packages have been defined: project management, communication, development of a reliable DNA-reference library, harmonisation of DNA-based protocols, application and implementation through pilot studies, and integration into a management tool to facilitate implementation.
GEANS builds upon the knowledge from other international initiatives (e.g. DNAqua-Net, FP7 DEVOTES and ESFRI Lifewatch) by consulting their experts, taxonomists, curators and others at the beginning of the project through an external workshop. Where previous projects mainly focused on feasibility, GEANS will focus on the applicability and implementation of fast and cost-reducing genetic tools in biological monitoring assessments. To ensure wide applicability, GEANS will conduct pilot studies with real-time management questions and in close cooperation with relevant stakeholders. To ensure implementation, GEANS will generate a decision support framework, feeding genetic data into relevant indicators, which easily translate the output of the new methods for use in policy and decision making. National authorities have expressed strong interest in such a tool through the support letters.
Development and compilation of standardised genetic monitoring tools
The novelty of GEANS lays in the fact that by using joint DNA-based tools, costs of legally binding monitoring can be reduced by 40%, while assessment time may be reduced by 60%. At the same time GEANS will foster the implementation of harmonised methods over all NS countries. Currently, no routine genetic monitoring is taking place. Different trials using DNA approaches are ongoing in several NS countries, including all GEANS beneficiaries. Sharing, harmonising and consolidating the available knowledge is therefore of prime importance (WP4). Hereto, internal and external workshops will be organised resulting in Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), which will be used in different pilot studies (WP5), and promoted to be used by other institutions and consultancy agencies around the NSR e.g. through organising a training workshop.
Crucial in the development of joint tools, is the set-up of a reliable DNA sequence library together with preservation of taxonomically validated specimens (WP3). Linking DNA sequences and existing taxonomy (species names) is one of the strengths of GEANS, as it is important that data and results from traditional monitoring surveys can still be used after implementation of genetic methods. Many projects generate sequence data, but fail to link with the ecological and functional information accompanied with taxonomic research. Our approach consolidates the information gathered over the past 100 years and complements traditional approaches, which is key for application in routine monitoring for ecosystem health assessment.
Pilot studies implementing genetic techniques
As proof of concept and to ensure the applicability and implementation of the developed genetic tools in ecosystem health assessment, pilots will be set-up in the partner countries in close cooperation with relevant stakeholder groups (WP5). These pilots cover environmental impact assessments (EIAs) for human activities (renewable energy, aquaculture and aggregate dredging) and environmental monitoring (NIS) in the framework of EU directives (MSFD and Natura2000). The pilot studies will show the complementarity and continuity with traditional methods, since it is necessary to use the earlier traditional data as well to have a continued assessment over time to manage the marine ecosystem. The data generated within the different pilots will feed into biotic indicators to translate the outputs into simple information needed by national authorities to make sound management decisions.
Based on the pilots, an easy to use and understandable decision support framework will be developed, including methods, SOPs, reference libraries, tools and indicators (WP6). To assure proper application and implementation of the developed methods to assess ecosystem health, the engagement of key stakeholders from the very beginning is crucial. Key stakeholders are the regulators and managers from national authorities, who need tools to determine Good Environmental Status (GES), to manage non-indigenous species (NIS) or to evaluate Natura 2000 and Marine Protected Areas. Most partners within the GEANS consortium work closely together with or are commissioned by the relevant national authorities to do biological monitoring for ecosystem health assessment. This, together with the formation of a Stakeholder Board with authorities from all countries, will assure the effective implementation of the DNA-based transnational approach. Through workshops and training sessions stakeholders can advise on the project’s direction and ensure the development of fit-for-purpose indicators.