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MEPS 706:91-108 (2023)  -  DOI:

Environmental DNA metabarcoding reveals seasonal and spatial variation in the vertebrate fauna of Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland

Sascha Schiøtt1,2,5,*, Mads Reinholdt Jensen2, Eva Egelyng Sigsgaard2, Peter Rask Møller3,4, Marcelo de Paula Avila2, Philip Francis Thomsen2, Søren Rysgaard2,5,6

1Greenland Institute of Natural Resources, Kivioq 2, 3905 Nuussuaq, Nuuk, Greenland
2Department of Biology, Aarhus University, Ny Munkegade 116, Building 1540, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
3Natural History Museum of Denmark, University of Copenhagen, 2100 Copenhagen E, Denmark
4Norwegian College of Fishery Science, UiT Norwegian Arctic University, 9037 Tromsø, Norway
5Arctic Research Centre, Department of Biology, Aarhus University, Ole Worms Allé 1, Buildings 1130-1134-1135, 8000 Aarhus C, Denmark
6Centre for Earth Observation Science, University of Manitoba, Manitoba R3T 2N2, Canada
*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Ilulissat Icefjord in Greenland is experiencing the effects of climate change, with the Sermeq Kujalleq glacier being one of the fastest-moving and most productive ice streams in Greenland. This is likely affecting the distribution of species in the fjord, including those important to local fisheries. Due to heavy ice conditions, few studies on environmental and ecological conditions exist from the fjord. However, new techniques such as environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding now allow deeper insight into the fjord system. Here, we combine local ecological knowledge with data on hydrographic conditions, stable isotopes (δ18O), and eDNA metabarcoding to investigate the spatial and seasonal distribution of marine fish and mammals inside Ilulissat Icefjord. Our eDNA results support local observations that Arctic char migrate to the southern fjord during summer, harp seals forage in large herds in the fjord system, polar cod is the dominant prey fish in the area, and Greenland shark likely does not reside in the fjord system. Lower predation pressure in the Icefjord, due to the absence of Greenland shark and polar bears as well as limited fishing/hunting, is presumably one of the reasons why ringed seals and Greenland halibut are larger in the Icefjord. Furthermore, our results indicate that in summer, the southern branch of the fjord system has a more diverse community of vertebrates and different water masses than the northern branch and main fjord, indicating a time lag between inflows to the different branches of the fjord system. Our approach highlights the value of combining local ecological knowledge with scientific research and represents a potential starting point for monitoring biological responses in Ilulissat Icefjord associated with climate-induced changes.

KEY WORDS: eDNA · Jakobshavn Icefjord · Indigenous knowledge · Oceanography · Marine-terminating glacier

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Cite this article as: Schiøtt S, Jensen MR, Sigsgaard EE, Møller PR, Avila MdP, Thomsen PF, Rysgaard S (2023) Environmental DNA metabarcoding reveals seasonal and spatial variation in the vertebrate fauna of Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 706:91-108.

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