Biodiversity Sensing Box

For the Biodiversity Sensing Box project (previously called the Fish Sensing Box project), researchers are developing a device that independently takes underwater samples for DNA analysis and observes with a camera and a hydrophone.

The box can be placed in fresh and salt water and collect a water sample up to 24 times and preserve genetic material for DNA sequencing in the laboratory. The device performs several functions simultaneously to monitor biodiversity of animal groups such as fish, marine mammals, crustaceans or worms.

Compared to dive observation and water sampling from a boat, the Biodiversity Sensing Box allows data collection at more time points over a longer period of time. This can also be done in places where diving is not really possible, such as river mouths, locks or at great depth and when diving is not possible, such as in bad weather. This enables research at wind farms, where measurements can be carried out before, during and after construction.

Progress (July 2023)

The initial tests in a river and at sea and have been completed successfully. After that, the box has been deployed in an estuary in front of lake Haringvliet, and successfully collected information and DNA of both the marine and freshwater species, including several migratory fish such as houting (Coregonus oxyrhynchus) and European eel (Anguilla anguilla). During that deployment, the box was visited by an inquisitive harbour seal (see image below), which was recorded both by the camera, hydrophone and the eDNA sampling. In the upcoming deployment, the sensors on the biodiversity sensing box will be extended with a plankton microscope to monitor plankton biodiversity, and an acoustic receiver that can specifically detect marine animals that carry an acoustic tag.

The researchers continue to work on the automated linking of data from DNA analyses, images and sound recordings. Ultimately, researchers also want to distinguish individual animals (population genetics) and determine ages (DNA methylation), and connect a smaller version of the box to other research equipment, such as underwater drones.

A visit by a curious seal was recorded by the Biodiversity Sensing Box
A visit by a curious seal was recorded by the Biodiversity Sensing Box