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Concept: DNA barcoding


As for many other regions, environmental and biodiversity monitoring of the brackish Baltic Sea suffers from low species resolution for several taxa. One such case is the benthic larvae of midges Chironomidae (Diptera), which are estimated to constitute about 30% of the macrozoobenthos species of the Baltic Sea and are important indicators of environmental quality. We assessed the usefulness of COI (cytochrome oxidase I) gene barcoding to improve species resolution and its potential for implementation in monitoring programmes. Neighbour-Joining, Maximum parsimony and Bayesian-inference analyses all provided high congruency with morphological analyses of adult males for almost all 42 species studied. Barcoding was helpful to elucidate some cases of taxonomical difficulties, such as synonyms. In contrast to the high identification accuracy when using our local database, there were a number of cases where matching with GenBank and BOLD provided puzzling results. For reliable species identification at least 15-30 specimens from 5-10 well-distributed sites within the geographical range of the species might be needed in a database to adequately cover the intraspecific variability of chironomids. Implementation of DNA barcoding, as applied here, in monitoring would result in an increase from at present less than 10% to more than 90% successful chironomid species identification of Baltic Sea benthic samples, as it also would for many nearby lakes. Routine monitoring of benthic environmental samples based on Next-Generation sequencing techniques would provide a cost effective way to obtain a taxonomically much more complete assessment of environmental quality and biodiversity, as required by EU directives and national legislation.

Concepts: Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Species, Identification, DNA barcoding, Taxonomy, Baltic Sea


We sampled 14,603 geometrid moths along a forested elevational gradient from 1020-3021 m in the southern Ecuadorian Andes, and then employed DNA barcoding to refine decisions on species boundaries initially made by morphology. We compared the results with those from an earlier study on the same but slightly shorter gradient that relied solely on morphological criteria to discriminate species. The present analysis revealed 1857 putative species, an 80% increase in species richness from the earlier study that detected only 1010 species. Measures of species richness and diversity that are less dependent on sample size were more than twice as high as in the earlier study, even when analysis was restricted to an identical elevational range. The estimated total number of geometrid species (new dataset) in the sampled area is 2350. Species richness at single sites was 32-43% higher, and the beta diversity component rose by 43-51%. These impacts of DNA barcoding on measures of richness reflect its capacity to reveal cryptic species that were overlooked in the first study. The overall results confirmed unique diversity patterns reported in the first investigation. Species diversity was uniformly high along the gradient, declining only slightly above 2800 m. Species turnover also showed little variation along the gradient, reinforcing the lack of evidence for discrete faunal zones. By confirming these major biodiversity patterns, the present study establishes that incomplete species delineation does not necessarily conceal trends of biodiversity along ecological gradients, but it impedes determination of the true magnitude of diversity and species turnover.

Concepts: Cryptic species complex, Ecology, Conservation biology, Species diversity, Evolution, Biodiversity, DNA barcoding, Species


We present a DNA barcoding study on the insect order Orthoptera that was generated in collaboration between four barcoding projects in three countries, viz. Barcoding Fauna Bavarica (Germany), German Barcode of Life, Austrian Barcode of Life, and Swiss Barcode of Life. Our dataset includes 748 COI sequences from 127 of the 162 taxa (78.4%) recorded in the three countries involved. 93 of these 122 species (76.2%, including all Ensifera), can be reliably identified using DNA barcodes. The remaining 26 caeliferan species (families Acrididae and Tetrigidae) form ten clusters that share barcodes among up to five species, in three cases even across different genera, and in six cases even sharing individual barcodes. We discuss incomplete lineage sorting and hybridization as most likely causes of this phenomenon, as the species concerned are phylogenetically young and hybridization has been previously observed. We also highlight the problem of nuclear mitochondrial pseudogenes (numts), a known problem in the barcoding of orthopteran species, and the possibility of Wolbachia infections. Finally, we discuss the possible taxonomic implications of our barcoding results and point out future research directions. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Austria, Grasshopper, DNA, Species, DNA barcoding, Orthoptera


The genetic barcode ITS2 (ITS: internal transcribed spacer) and pollen morphology were used for the identification of the pharmacologically valuable wild Araliaceae species Panax ginseng, Oplopanax elatus, Aralia elata, Aralia continentalis, Eleutherococcus senticosus, and Eleutherococcus sessiliflorus inhabiting the natural forests of Primorye, Russia. The ITS2 locus successfully identified all six species, which supports the use of ITS2 as a standard barcode for medicinal plants. However, the ITS2 locus was insufficient for intra-specific discrimination in these species, neither within Primorye nor from other world representatives within GenBank. Araliaceae pollen was confirmed to undergo size-reducing metamorphosis. The final morphotypes were species-specific for each of the six species but could not discriminate intra-species geographic localities within Primorye. The morphologies of the final pollen morphotypes from homologous species inhabiting other parts of the world are not yet known. Therefore, whether pollen is applicable for Araliaceae intra-species discrimination between Primorye and other world localities could not be established. Based on these findings, we propose that the ITS2 genetic barcode and the final pollen morphotypes are suitable for the identification of Araliaceae species. However, further studies will be needed to determine the suitability of genetic and pollen traits for Araliaceae geographic authentication.

Concepts: Medicinal plants, Genetics, Species, DNA barcoding, Eleutherococcus senticosus, Ginseng, Aralioideae, Araliaceae


We report a case of urinary myiasis occurring in a 60-yr-old Iranian male patient with urinary tract problems and a history of travel to Thailand who was referred to Shafagh Medical Laboratory in Tehran (Iran). Larvae excreted in the patient’s urine were confirmed by morphological identification key and DNA barcoding to belong to the species Megaselia scalaris Loew, which is known as the scuttle fly. Based on the patient’s history, he was infected with M. scalaris in Thailand. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of urinary myiasis caused by M. scalaris in Thailand.

Concepts: Megaselia scalaris, DNA barcoding, Iran, Flies, Identification, Insect


Deep mitochondrial divergence within species may result from cryptic speciation, from phylogeographic isolation or from endosymbiotic bacteria like Wolbachia that manipulate host reproduction. Phengaris butterflies are social parasites that spend most of their life in close relationship with ants. Previously, cryptic speciation has been hypothesised for two Phengaris species based on divergent mtDNA sequences. Since Phengaris species are highly endangered, the existence of cryptic species would have drastic consequences for conservation and management. We tested for cryptic speciation and alternative scenarios in P. teleius and P. nausithous based on a comprehensive sample across their Palaearctic ranges using COI gene sequences, nuclear microsatellites and tests for Wolbachia. In both species a deep mitochondrial split occurring 0.65-1.97 myrs ago was observed that did not correspond with microsatellite data but was concordant with Wolbachia infection. Haplotypes previously attributed to cryptic species were part of the Wolbachia-infected clades. In both species remaining phylogeographic structure was largely consistent between mitochondrial and nuclear genomes. In P. teleius several mitochondrial and nuclear groups were observed in East Asia while a single haplogroup and nuclear cluster prevailed across continental Eurasia. Neutrality tests suggested rapid demographic expansion into that area. In contrast, P. nausithous had several mitochondrial and nuclear groups in Europe, suggesting a complex phylogeographic history in the western part of the species range. We conclude that deep intraspecific divergences found in DNA barcode studies do not necessarily need to represent cryptic speciation but instead can be due to both infection by Wolbachia and phylogeographic structure.

Concepts: Divergence, Evolution, Gene, Bacteria, Butterfly, Species, DNA, DNA barcoding


How common are cryptic species - those overlooked because of their morphological similarity? Despite its wide-ranging implications for biology and conservation, the answer remains open to debate. Butterflies constitute the best-studied invertebrates, playing a similar role as birds do in providing models for vertebrate biology. An accurate assessment of cryptic diversity in this emblematic group requires meticulous case-by-case assessments, but a preview to highlight cases of particular interest will help to direct future studies. We present a survey of mitochondrial genetic diversity for the butterfly fauna of the Iberian Peninsula with unprecedented resolution (3502 DNA barcodes for all 228 species), creating a reliable system for DNA-based identification and for the detection of overlooked diversity. After compiling available data for European butterflies (5782 sequences, 299 species), we applied the Generalized Mixed Yule-Coalescent model to explore potential cryptic diversity at a continental scale. The results indicate that 27.7% of these species include from two to four evolutionary significant units (ESUs), suggesting that cryptic biodiversity may be higher than expected for one of the best-studied invertebrate groups and regions. The ESUs represent important units for conservation, models for studies of evolutionary and speciation processes, and sentinels for future research to unveil hidden diversity.

Concepts: Biology, DNA, DNA barcoding, Conservation biology, Invertebrate, Biodiversity, Evolution, Species


Documenting the diversity of marine life is challenging because many species are cryptic, small, and rare, and belong to poorly known groups. New sequencing technologies, especially when combined with standardized sampling, promise to make comprehensive biodiversity assessments and monitoring feasible on a large scale. We used this approach to characterize patterns of diversity on oyster reefs across a range of geographic scales comprising a temperate location [Virginia (VA)] and a subtropical location [Florida (FL)]. Eukaryotic organisms that colonized multilayered settlement surfaces (autonomous reef monitoring structures) over a 6-mo period were identified by cytochrome c oxidase subunit I barcoding (>2-mm mobile organisms) and metabarcoding (sessile and smaller mobile organisms). In a total area of ∼15.64 m(2) and volume of ∼0.09 m(3), 2,179 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) were recorded from 983,056 sequences. However, only 10.9% could be matched to reference barcodes in public databases, with only 8.2% matching barcodes with both genus and species names. Taxonomic coverage was broad, particularly for animals (22 phyla recorded), but 35.6% of OTUs detected via metabarcoding could not be confidently assigned to a taxonomic group. The smallest size fraction (500 to 106 μm) was the most diverse (more than two-thirds of OTUs). There was little taxonomic overlap between VA and FL, and samples separated by ∼2 m were significantly more similar than samples separated by ∼100 m. Ground-truthing with independent assessments of taxonomic composition indicated that both presence-absence information and relative abundance information are captured by metabarcoding data, suggesting considerable potential for ecological studies and environmental monitoring.

Concepts: Ecology, DNA barcoding, DNA, Life, Taxonomy, Cytochrome c, Eukaryote, Species


We have generated matK, rbcL, and nrITS2 DNA barcodes for 320 specimens representing all 18 extant genera of the conifer family Podocarpaceae. The sample includes 145 of the 198 recognized species. Comparative analyses of sequence quality and species discrimination were conducted on the 159 individuals from which all three markers were recovered (representing 15 genera and 97 species). The vast majority of sequences were of high quality (B 30 = 0.596-0.989). Even the lowest quality sequences exceeded the minimum requirements of the BARCODE data standard. In the few instances that low quality sequences were generated, the responsible mechanism could not be discerned. There were no statistically significant differences in the discriminatory power of markers or marker combinations (p = 0.05). The discriminatory power of the barcode markers individually and in combination is low (56.7% of species at maximum). In some instances, species discrimination failed in spite of ostensibly useful variation being present (genotypes were shared among species), but in many cases there was simply an absence of sequence variation. Barcode gaps (maximum intraspecific p-distance > minimum interspecific p-distance) were observed in 50.5% of species when all three markers were considered simultaneously. The presence of a barcode gap was not predictive of discrimination success (p = 0.02) and there was no statistically significant difference in the frequency of barcode gaps among markers (p = 0.05). In addition, there was no correlation between number of individuals sampled per species and the presence of a barcode gap (p = 0.27).

Concepts: Podocarpaceae, DNA barcoding, DNA, Permutation, Mathematical analysis, Species, Biology, Statistical significance


DNA barcoding protocols require the linkage of each sequence record to a voucher specimen that has, whenever possible, been authoritatively identified. Natural history collections would seem an ideal resource for barcode library construction, but they have never seen large-scale analysis because of concerns linked to DNA degradation. The present study examines the strength of this barrier, carrying out a comprehensive analysis of moth and butterfly (Lepidoptera) species in the Australian National Insect Collection. Protocols were developed that enabled tissue samples, specimen data, and images to be assembled rapidly. Using these methods, a five-person team processed 41,650 specimens representing 12,699 species in 14 weeks. Subsequent molecular analysis took about six months, reflecting the need for multiple rounds of PCR as sequence recovery was impacted by age, body size, and collection protocols. Despite these variables and the fact that specimens averaged 30.4 years old, barcode records were obtained from 86% of the species. In fact, one or more barcode compliant sequences (>487 bp) were recovered from virtually all species represented by five or more individuals, even when the youngest was 50 years old. By assembling specimen images, distributional data, and DNA barcode sequences on a web-accessible informatics platform, this study has greatly advanced accessibility to information on thousands of species. Moreover, much of the specimen data became publically accessible within days of its acquisition, while most sequence results saw release within three months. As such, this study reveals the speed with which DNA barcode workflows can mobilize biodiversity data, often providing the first web-accessible information for a species. These results further suggest that existing collections can enable the rapid development of a comprehensive DNA barcode library for the most diverse compartment of terrestrial biodiversity - insects.

Concepts: Cryptic species complex, Sample, Insect, DNA, Biology, Sequence, DNA barcoding, Species