Recent advances in molecular sequencing technology and the increased availability of fieldable laboratory equipment have provided researchers with the opportunity to conduct real-time or near real-time gene-based biodiversity assessments of aquatic ecosystems. In this study, we developed a workflow and portable kit for fieldable environmental DNA sequencing (FeDS) and tested its efficacy by characterizing the breadth of jellyfish (Medusozoa) taxa in the coastal waters of the Upper and Lower Florida Keys. Environmental DNA was isolated from seawater collection events at eight sites and samples were subjected to medusozoan 16S rRNA gene and metazoan mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase 1 gene profiling via metabarcoding onsite. In total, FeDS yielded 175,326 processed sequence reads providing evidence for 53 medusozoan taxa. Our most salient findings revealed eDNA from: (1) two venomous box jellyfish (Cubozoa) species, including taxa whose stings cause the notorious Irukandji envenomation syndrome; (2) two species of potentially introduced stalked jellyfish (Staurozoa); and (3) a likely cryptic species of upside-down jellyfish (Scyphozoa). Taken together, the results of this study highlight the merits of FeDS in conducting biodiversity surveys of endemic and introduced species, and as a potential tool for assessing envenomation and/or conservation-related threats.
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