Knowledge of the temporal and spatial abundance of invertebrate larvae is critical to understanding the dispersal capabilities and recruitment potential of marine and aquatic organisms. Traditional microscopic analyses are time-consuming and difficult given the diversity of larval species and a frequent lack of discriminating morphological characteristics. Here, we describe a sensitive rRNA targeted sandwich hybridization assay (SHA) that uses oligonucleotide probes to detect and enumerate the larvae of invasive green crabs (Carcinus maenas), native blue mussels (Mytilus), native barnacles (Balanus) and polychaetes (Osedax and Ophelia) that occur in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, California. Laboratory-based assays demonstrate specificity, high sensitivity, and a quantitative response to cultured samples from three of the target organisms. Oligonucleotide probes were then printed in arrays on nitrocellulose membranes and deployed in our robotic Environmental Sample Processor (ESP) to detect larvae in situ and autonomously. We demonstrate that the SHA-detection method and ESP robot can be used for near real-time, in situ detection of larval species in the marine environment.
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