Thursday, March 26, 2020

From the inbox: Looking for a project coordinator in CaBOL

Dear fellow barcoders,

we plan to extend our ongoing barcoding efforts in the Caucasus region by a new project, CaBOL. We submitted the CaBOL proposal a while ago and recently received very positive signals from the funder, although not yet the official grant notification.
In order to be ready to start the project soon after COVID loosens its grip, I would like to circulate the job offer for a CaBOL project coordinator (based at ZFMK, Bonn, Germany, but with frequent visits to Georgia and Armenia), please get in touch or forward this:

The Zoological Research Museum A. Koenig in Bonn, Germany, is looking for a full-time project coordinator (m/f/d)

within the project "CaBOL: A Georgian-Armenian-German Initiative to establish a joint Caucasian Biodiversity Research Platform". Conditional on the funding of the CaBOL project through BMBF, the position can be filled for three years.

Your tasks:
• Coordinating the network of CaBOL partner institutes (in Germany, Georgia, and Armenia), monitoring schedules and project funds, reporting, organization of project meetings
• PR, dissemination of results, representing CaBOL
• Coordinating web page development, curating content of web page
• Managing the CaBOL subproject at Museum Koenig
• Guest liaison and supervision of students
• Maintaining contact and procuring samples to taxon experts for species identification
• Data analysis

Your profile:
• University degree in biology or related life science, in the organismic domain
• Especially outstanding organizational skills and bargaining strength
• Very good knowledge of the English language and experience with composing scientific texts and reports
• Basic skills in DNA barcoding, in working with databases, and entomological expertise of advantage
• Intercultural competence
• Readiness to travel frequently (esp. into the Caucasus)

We offer a highly motivating environment at a renowned and pioneering research facility and the possibility to work independently. Salary and benefits are according to a public service position in Germany, TV-L E 13.

Equally qualified severely disabled applicants will be given preference. Qualified women are strongly encouraged to apply.

Please send your application by e-mail attachment, including a detailed CV, until April 19, 2020 to Mrs. Heike Lenz at Stiftung Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig, Leibniz-Institut für Biodiversität der Tiere, Adenauerallee 160, 53113 Bonn or via E-Mail as a summarized PDF to: In case of questions concerning the position please send an email to Jonas Astrin:

For more information about our institution see

Best wishes
 Jonas Astrin

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

5 Million Specimens at the CBG collection

Over the past decade and a half our Natural History collection here at the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics continuously grew and today our media team publicly announced that we surpassed the 5 Million Specimen mark. Mind you all of those are digitized (and barcoded).

Here the official press release:

February 2020 marks an important milestone for the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (CBG) at the University of Guelph. CBG’s in-house natural history collection (CBG Collections) has reached five million barcode voucher specimens. Each specimen is fully digitized, sequenced and available online through the Barcode of Life Data System platform (BOLD).
Since its inception in 2006, the barcode reference collection at CBG has grown steadily. The development of DNA barcoding high-throughput workflows has enabled the rapid collection, processing and sequencing of millions of specimens from across the globe. In the last five years, CBG has sorted, prepared and DNA barcoded 800,000 specimens per year before archiving in this unique reference collection. With the recent addition of the PacBio Sequel sequencing platform and launch of the BIOSCAN program, the CBG aspires to grow the collection by one to two million specimens each year.
The final specimen array of 95 specimens added to CBG Collections to reach five million were collected in a Malaise trap located in Guanacaste, Costa Rica as part of the ongoing BIOSCAN project BioAlfa. The array was very diverse, and included some of the following insects:
  • Hawk moth (Sphingidae: Xylophanes hannemanni) – these strong-flying moths have been recorded year-round in Costa Rica and have multiple generations per year.
  • Spider wasp (Pompilidae) – attack and paralyze spiders to lay their eggs on and feed their young; the adults feed on nectar.
  • Tortoise beetle (Chrysomelidae: Hybosa) – a common beetle that can be encountered in your own backyard; they feed on plant tissues and some are agricultural pests.
  • Lanternfly (Fulgoridae) – a colourful true-bug found throughout the tropics; despite their name, they do not emit light like a lantern.
  • Robber fly or assassin fly (Asilidae) – are ambush predators that target other insects for a meal.
  • Leafhopper (Cicadellidae: Erythrogonia) – come in a variety of colours and patterns and are found worldwide; leafhoppers are small insects with over 20,000 species described.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

BIOSCAN - new video

In case you did not come across the new version of the BIOSCAN video - really worth watching!

BIOSCAN is iBOL's new seven-year, $180 million global research program that aims to revolutionize our understanding of biodiversity and our capacity to manage it. Involving scientists, research organizations, and citizens, BIOSCAN will explore three major research themes: Species Discovery, Species Interactions, Species Dynamics.

iBOL (International Barcode of Life Consortium) involves researchers in 30+ nations who share a mission to transform biodiversity science through DNA-based approaches with DNA barcoding at its core. iBOL works in partnership with academic, government, and private sector organizations.

Monday, January 6, 2020

PostDoc Bioinformatics and Environmental Genomics

A position to work at McGill partly in collaboration with our lab:

Preferred Disciplines: Biology, Bioinformatics (Postdoc position)
Project length: 2 years, renewable for 3rd year 
Approx. start date: February 15, 2020
McGill University, Montreal, QC

Summary of Project:
The Postdoctoral Fellow will be involved in long-term and highly replicated laboratory and field experiments on the effect of multiple stressors on the structure and function of aquatic communities. The research will involve developing and implementing bioinformatic tools for analysing metabarcoding, metagenomics and transcriptomics data sets and assessing biodiversity trends for broad taxonomic groups (bacterial, phytoplankton, zooplankton). The fellow will compare biodiversity estimates obtained from traditional sampling techniques with estimates based on refined metabarcoding approaches to describe the biodiversity of contaminated aquatic habitats. The project involves the biodiversity group at McGill University and collaborators from the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (CBG), University of Guelph, University of Quebec at Montreal and University of Montreal.

Research Objectives/Sub-Objectives: 1) Develop sensitive metabarcoding bioinformatics protocols to describing aquatic communities; 2) Investigate the impact of multiple stressors on complex aquatic communities. 

Methodology: 1) Use high-throughput sequencing to develop metabarcoding and metagenomics protocols for describing aquatic communities in complex environmental samples; 2) Validate protocols; 3) Apply protocols on highly replicated field experiments.

Expertise and Skills Needed:
Experience with next generation sequencing or large sequence data and related bioinformatics / computational / programming skills is required. Familiarity with one or more of the following would be an advantage: genomics, transcriptomics, phylogenetic analyses, genome evolution / programming language (R/Unix/Python or Perl). Experience working with aquatic organisms would be an asset. The candidate should have a PhD in evolution / genetics / computational biology, a good publication record and the ability to work well in a collaborative research environment.
Applicants should send a curriculum vitae, short statements of research interests, and 3 representative publications to melania.cristescu@mcgill.caThe application deadline is January 31, 2020.

McGill University is strongly committed to diversity and equity within its community. McGill University is among Canada’s leading research-intensive universities with students from over 140 countries. The university is located in Montreal, a cosmopolitan city with great cultural and linguistic diversity.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Postdoc in Museomics/Ancient DNA Analyses - Oslo

A Postdoctoral Research fellow position in museomics/ancient DNA analyses is available at the Natural History Museum (NHM), University of Oslo, Norway. The position is part of the research group ‘Frontiers in Evolutionary Zoology (FEZ)‘. The appointment is a full time position and is made for a period of up to four years (25 % of which is devoted to required duties) with a starting date no later than 31.08.2020.

The complete text of the job announcement is available here.

More about the position

The research group ‘Frontiers in Evolutionary Zoology (FEZ)‘ at the NHM currently includes three senior scientists with curatorial responsibilities for invertebrate collections, two PhD students, as well as several Master students.

The Natural History Museum Oslo houses the largest natural history collections in Norway, and has the strategic goal of strengthening cutting edge research on collection material. To further strengthen NHM position in the field we seek a young and dynamic early stage researcher who implements and develops strategies and protocols for molecular approaches to analyze difficult collection material (e.g., samples that have been preserved in either formalin or other fixatives disadvantageous for DNA survival).

The successful candidate shall have a strong publication record and potential for collaboration with current NHM curators, especially from the FEZ research group. Senior scientists within FEZ focus on various topics including systematics, taxonomy, and molecular evolution of selected marine invertebrate groups, staphylinid beetles, and parasitic flatworms. Given the general topic of the position, the successful candidate is expected to also cooperate with other researchers at the institution. The position offers also the opportunity to actively develop own research projects. Hence, dedication to attract external funding is expected. The museum also plays a leading role in postgraduate education in biodiversity and systematics through ForBio – Research School in Biosystematics and the candidate will help strengthening our profile through teaching and supervision of PhD students.

Postdoctoral fellows who are appointed for a period of four years are expected to acquire basic pedagogical competency in the course of their fellowship period within the duty component of 25 %.
The main purpose of the fellowship is to qualify researchers for work in higher academic positions within their disciplines.

Qualification requirements

The applicants are required to have
- a degree equivalent to a Norwegian doctoral degree in biology or equivalent. For candidates not having finished their doctoral degree the doctoral dissertation must be submitted for evaluation by the closing date of the call. An appointment is dependent on the defense of the doctoral thesis being approved
- a strong academic track record
- a strong background and practical experience in cutting edge molecular DNA methodology
- experiences in bioinformatic analyses of big genomic data sets
- team-working and networking skills
- fluent in English (written and spoken). Command of a Scandinavian language is an advantage

Desirable experience

Furthermore, the applicants have/are preferentially
- successfully acquired external funding for research projects
- experienced in having worked with natural history collections
- experienced in working with difficult templates for genetic analyses
- profound knowledge about systematics and taxonomy of invertebrates
Teaching and supervision skills of Master and PhD fellows is an advantage.

Evaluation of candidates will focus on the following:

Applications will be assessed with respect to the required qualifications. Candidates for the position will be selected in accordance with the NHM strategic goal of strengthening collection-based research, and are expected to be in the upper segment of their research field. Interviews will be used in the assessment and appointment process. In addition to scientific qualifications particular emphasis will be put on personal capacities, such as collaboration, communication and networking skills as well as potential for scientific leadership.

We offer:

- salary NOK 532 300 - 583 900 per year depending on qualification and seniority as PostDoc Research Fellow (position code 1352)
- challenging research questions and a friendly working environment
- full funding of the project research-related activities, including field work, lab work and presentation of results at international conferences
- membership in the Norwegian Public Service Pension Fund
- attractive welfare benefits

How to apply. 

The application must include (as separate and numbered documents):

1. An informative application/cover letter including a motivation statement for the position
2. A separate one-page statement explaining how this position fits the career plan and interests of the applicant
3. CV (summarizing education, positions and academic work, scientific publications and other relevant experience)
4. Copies of educational certificates and transcripts of records
5. List of publications and academic work that the applicant wishes to be considered by the evaluating committee
6. Names and contact details of 2-3 references (name, affiliation, relation to candidate, e-mail and telephone number). The references will be contacted if necessary. Letters of recommendation are therefore not required for the initial application.
7. A one-page research sketch that illustrates the applicant’s prospect of research development in the field
8. Pdf of PhD thesis (or equivalent) and potential publications and academic work that the applicant wishes to be considered by the evaluating committee

Applicants should deliver the application with the requested attachments (numbered as above) through our electronic recruiting system. Foreign applicants are advised to include an explanation of their University’s grading system. Please remember that all documents should be in English or a Scandinavian language.
In assessing applications, particular emphasis will be placed upon educational and scientific merits and the maturity and potential of the candidates to complete the project successfully within the given time frame. Interviews with selected candidates will be arranged.

Formal regulations

Please see the guidelines and regulations for appointments to Postdoctoral fellowships at the University of Oslo.
No one can be appointed for more than one Postdoctoral Fellow period at the University of Oslo.
According to the Norwegian Freedom of Information Act (Offentleglova) information about the applicant may be included in the public applicant list, also in cases where the applicant has requested non-disclosure. The University of Oslo has an agreement for all employees, aiming to secure rights to research results etc. The University of Oslo aims to achieve a balanced gender composition in the workforce and to recruit people with ethnic minority backgrounds.

Contact information

About the position and project details: FEZ group leader: Professor Lutz Bachmann

About administrative questions and the application procedure: HR advisor Thomas Brånå

Deadline: 15.01.2020.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Online Metabarcoding course January/February 2020

Some shameless self-promotion. I am teaching my online metabarcoding introduction course again:

January 20, 2020 to February 16, 2020

Four weeks learning covering the basics:
  • High-troughput sequencing
  • Environmental DNA (eDNA)
  • Metabarcoding analytics
  • Applications/Recent research

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Trophic ecology

Understanding the trophic structure of a community is indispensable to understanding the underlying ecosystem in its entirety. Unfortunately, basic information on animal diet is often incomplete or simply missing. This is not a surprise as the assessment of animal diet is rather difficult. Very often direct observation of feeding is not possible. Species are elusive, small, rare or live in regions that are inaccessible. Another issue is variability of diets within species, populations or even between life stages. And to add more complexity to that, diet is dynamic, i.e. it fluctuates with seasons, day time, geography, and ecosystems. 

As usual, our knowledge about diet is far more detailed when it comes to vertebrates, specifically larger predators. However, once the focus shifts toward e.g. the trophic ecology of many arthropod species one quickly finds out that not much is covered by the literature, because it has not yet been studied as a consequence of the difficulties described above. 

For quite some years stable isotope analysis has been used to reconstruct diets, to characterize trophic relationships, to elucidate patterns of resource allocation, and for construction of food webs. Isotopes of a given element differ in the number of neutrons they contain. Everybody might have heard about radioactive isotopes which are those that spontaneously decay into other element isotopes. Stable isotopes are those which do not, but they might be the result of such a decay. Nonradiogenic stable isotopes are most useful for ecological studies, and particularly those of the light elements: H, C, N, O and S, as those are the major constituents of organic materials, and for which there are large relative mass differences between isotopes of the same element. Stable isotope ratios are usually measured using stable isotope mass spectrometry and currently the most commonly used isotopes are δ¹³C and δ¹⁵N. 

Similarly, DNA barcodes have much utility in revealing trophic interactions among organisms and determining diet items although they often can only provide a snapshot of mostly local, present-day interactions. Thus, stable isotope analysis can complement DNA barcoding techniques by adding coarser but more integrated averages of food web structure across space and time. In addition it allows for tracing nutrient fluxes in changing organismal communities. In other words, DNA barcodes allow us to pinpoint the exact composition of a species’ diet while both δ¹³C and δ¹⁵N isotopes can be used to trace the structure (and its change over time) of the underlying food webs, with δ¹⁵N showing enrichment between trophic levels and δ¹³C distinguishing between prey groups. 

A recent study on a particular butterfly group shows how stable isotope analysis and DNA metabarcoding can be combined to better assess diet and trophic position. The family Lycaenidae (Gossamer-winged butterflies) is the second largest of all butterflies (about 6000 species) with various life histories and diets. About 75% of the species in this group are known to associate with ants and these associations can be mutualistic, parasitic, or predatory. In some cases caterpillars produce nutritious secretions from specialized organs to reward ants in exchange for their protection against predators and parasitoids.

However, the larval diets of many lycaenid butterflies remain poorly characterized, likely because the caterpillars are camouflaged, difficult to rear in captivity and often live in inaccessible microhabitats such as flower buds or subterranean ant nests. For many species, no records exist for direct observations of feeding behaviors, leaving researchers to rely on indirect evidence to infer larval diets. One such species is Anthene usamba (previously A. hodsoni), a lycaenid butterfly found in the savannas of eastern Africa.

An earlier study using comparative microbiome analysis showed that adults in contrast to caterpillars were aphytophagous. Now, metabarcoding of caterpillar gut content chloroplast 16S rRNA found a match to the acacia tree (Vachellia drepanolobium) the caterpillars are known to live on. Stable isotope analysis confirmed that Anthene usamba gets most of its carbon directly or indirectly from its host plant, rather than from surrounding grasses. Although the feeding behaviour of the larvae remains unknown it can be clearly stated that they feed on their host tree.

There is a lot that speaks for the complementary use of stable isotope analysis and DNA barcoding in some dietary studies. There are individual limitations to both methods, e.g. analysis of diets with stable isotope analysis requires prior knowledge of the isotopic signatures of potential food sources. They also are not useful when the number of potential food sources exceeds the number of isotopes available. DNA-based methods such as metabarcoding are subject to various biases especially when PCR is involved. They highly depend on well-parameterized reference libraries and it is not possible to quantify individual contributions to complex DNA mixtures especially in a sample with different levels of degradation (here through differential digestion).

As there are so many species for which we have no clue on what they are feeding on it is reassuring to know that there are a number of methods available that can help us to learn more.