Scientists assess insect biodiversity by analyzing airborne DNA

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Scientists are already able to determine which species are present in aquatic environments, by analyzing the rejected DNA that is present in the water. Now, for the first time, a team has carried out an investigation of the insects by analyzing the DNA found in the air.

The so-called environmental DNA – or eDNA for short – is contained in feces, parched skin or other biological material dispersed by living organisms on a continuous basis.

In recent years, researchers have collected and analyzed aquatic DNA to see what types of corals are present on the reefs, to check if any great white sharks are in the area, and even to look for the Loch Ness monster. They also found early human DNA in soil collected from caves in Europe.

In the latest study, however, a team from Lund University led by Dr Fabian Roger set out to search for insect eDNA in air samples taken from three sites in Sweden. Overall, scientists were successful, as 85 different insect species have been identified, including various types of moths, bees, beetles, flies, ants, and wasps. DNA from some vertebrate animals, such as birds and mammals, was also present.

That said, while the eDNA analysis identified some insect species that were not detected by other traditional investigative techniques, it also missed some species captured by these other techniques. For example, while conventional sticky traps collected 48 species of moths in the areas studied, the eDNA of only nine species of moths was found in the air – four of those nine were also captured in the traps. .

Therefore, in its current form, airborne eDNA analysis is probably best suited to complement traditional surveying techniques, not replace them. Scientists are convinced that once the technology is refined, it should provide a much more accurate picture of a region’s biodiversity.

Source: British ecological society

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