Environmental RNA: A Revolution in Ecological Resolution?

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Abstract

Current advancements in environmental RNA (eRNA) exploit its relatively fast turnover rate relative to environmental DNA (eDNA) to assess ‘metabolically active’ or temporally/spatially recent community diversity. However, this focus significantly underutilizes the trove of potential ecological information encrypted in eRNA. Here, we argue for pushing beyond current species-level eDNA detection capabilities by using eRNA to detect any organisms with unique eRNA profiles, potentially including different life-history stages, sexes, or even specific phenotypes within a species. We also discuss the future of eRNA as a means of assessing the physiological status of organisms and the ecological health of populations and communities, reflecting ecosystem-level conditions. We posit that eRNA has the potential to significantly improve the resolution of organism detection, biological monitoring, and biomonitoring applications in ecology.

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Yates, M. C., Derry, A. M., & Cristescu, M. E. (2021, July 1). Environmental RNA: A Revolution in Ecological Resolution? Trends in Ecology and Evolution. Elsevier Ltd. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2021.03.001

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