Genetics based assessment of the ecological status of the marine environment.

We have developed diverse methods for the assessment of the ecological and environmental status of the marine environment. These include AMBI and M-AMBI (multivariate-AMBI) tools to determine the state of soft bottom macroinvertebrate communities.

AZTI has carried out a genetics based method that eases the implementation of such indices by providing a fast, accurate and cost-effective tool for species identification. This method is based on the metabarcoding approach, which consists on taxonomically assigning all individuals present in a sample by comparing a short fragment of their DNA to a reference database that contains the correspondence of taxa and sequences.

This optimized protocols for both laboratory and data analysis procedures and we are continuously generating new DNA sequence to increase the reference database. It can be used for AMBI. This software application (downloadable at, and containing a list of over 7.000 species all over the world) allows the environmental impact assessment of different human activities on the marine environment, such as discharges, dredging, public works, aquaculture, etc., and the marine environmental recovery upon termination of these activities. Moreover, it enables to predict the impact that a new activity may have, proposing suitable measures to minimise such impact. The tool has been used to:

  • Determine the ecological status of the marine environment according to the water framework directive (WFD), the environmental status and seabed integrity as per the Marine strategy framework directive (MSFD), and, in general, the impact on benthos.
  • Assistance in the sustainable use of the marine environment, in accordance with management decision-making.


  • Knowledge and distribution forecasts of the impact that your business may have, minimising it before it happens by selection of the most appropriate location, size, etc.
  • Calculation of the loading capacity for a place (e.g. for aquaculture) to avoid impact.
  • Compliance with legislation in force that requires the determination of the ecological status.
  • Compliance with port dredging management recommendations.
  • Species identification independent of taxonomic expertise.
  • Cost-effective and accurate biotic index calculation.
  • Improved access to monitoring more often in time and space.


  • Public administrations and environmental agencies.
  • Marine energy, mining, aquaculture, chemical and oil companies.


  • Having recommenced mass use of status assessment tools in 2000, AMBI (AZTI’s Marine biotic index) has served as inspiration for other indices.
  • Being cost-effective and independent of available taxonomic expertise, the method allows application of biotic indices in more locations, environment types