Science of the Total Environment
School of Science
Hort Frontiers Pollination Fund, part of the Hort Frontiers strategic partnership initiative developed by Hort Innovation / Curtin University / South West Catchments Council, through funding from the Australian Government's National Landcare Program
Global food production, food supply chains and food security are increasingly stressed by human population growth and loss of arable land, becoming more vulnerable to anthropogenic and environmental perturbations. Numerous mutualistic and antagonistic species are interconnected with the cultivation of crops and livestock and these can be challenging to identify on the large scales of food production systems. Accurate identifications to capture this diversity and rapid scalable monitoring are necessary to identify emerging threats (i.e. pests and pathogens), inform on ecosystem health (i.e. soil and pollinator diversity), and provide evidence for new management practices (i.e. fertiliser and pesticide applications). Increasingly, environmental DNA (eDNA) is providing rapid and accurate classifications for specific organisms and entire species assemblages in substrates ranging from soil to air. Here, we aim to discuss how eDNA is being used for monitoring of agricultural ecosystems, what current limitations exist, and how these could be managed to expand applications into the future. In a systematic review we identify that eDNA-based monitoring in food production systems accounts for only 4 % of all eDNA studies. We found that the majority of these eDNA studies target soil and plant substrates (60 %), predominantly to identify microbes and insects (60 %) and are biased towards Europe (42 %). While eDNA-based monitoring studies are uncommon in many of the world's food production systems, the trend is most pronounced in emerging economies often where food security is most at risk. We suggest that the biggest limitations to eDNA for agriculture are false negatives resulting from DNA degradation and assay biases, as well as incomplete databases and the interpretation of abundance data. These require in silico, in vitro, and in vivo approaches to carefully design, test and apply eDNA monitoring for reliable and accurate taxonomic identifications. We explore future opportunities for eDNA research which could further develop this useful tool for food production system monitoring in both emerging and developed economies, hopefully improving monitoring, and ultimately food security.
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