Friday, July 13, 2018

Weekend reads

Back on track with the weekend read posts.  Maybe not as many as usual but still quite interesting to read.

Ecological and taxonomic knowledge is important for conservation and utilization of biodiversity. Biodiversity and ecology of fungi in Mediterranean ecosystems is poorly understood. Here, we examined the diversity and spatial distribution of fungi along an elevational gradient in a Mediterranean ecosystem, using DNA metabarcoding. This study provides novel information about diversity of all ecological and taxonomic groups of fungi along an elevational gradient in a Mediterranean ecosystem. Our analyses revealed that among all biotic and abiotic variables tested, host species identity is the main driver of the fungal richness and fungal community composition. Fungal richness was strongly associated with tree richness and peaked in Quercus-dominated habitats and Cistus-dominated habitats. The highest taxonomic richness of ectomycorrhizal fungi was observed under Quercus ilex, whereas the highest taxonomic richness of saprotrophs was found under Pinus. Our results suggest that the effect of plant diversity on fungal richness and community composition may override that of abiotic variables across environmental gradients.

Although insects dominate the terrestrial fauna, sampling constraints and the poor taxonomic knowledge of many groups have limited assessments of their diversity. Passive sampling techniques and DNA-based species assignments now make it possible to overcome these barriers. For example, Malaise traps collect specimens with minimal intervention while the Barcode Index Number (BIN) system automates taxonomic assignments. The present study employs Malaise traps and DNA barcoding to extend understanding of insect diversity in one of the least known zoogeographic regions, the Saharo-Arabian. Insects were collected at four sites in three countries (Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia) by deploying Malaise traps. The collected specimens were analyzed by sequencing 658 bp of cytochrome oxidase I (DNA barcode) and assigning BINs on the Barcode of Life Data Systems. The year-long deployment of a Malaise trap in Pakistan and briefer placements at two Egyptian sites and at one in Saudi Arabia collected 53,092 specimens. They belonged to 17 insect orders with Diptera and Hymenoptera dominating the catch. Barcode sequences were recovered from 44,432 (84%) of the specimens, revealing the occurrence of 3,682 BINs belonging to 254 families. Many of these taxa were uncommon as 25% of the families and 50% of the BINs from Pakistan were only present in one sample. Family and BIN counts varied significantly through the year, but diversity indices did not. Although more than 10,000 specimens were analyzed from each nation, just 2% of BINs were shared by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, 4% by Egypt and Pakistan, and 7% by Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The present study demonstrates how the BIN system can circumvent the barriers imposed by limited access to taxonomic specialists and by the fact that many insect species in the Saharo-Arabian region are undescribed.

Fungal spores and mycelium fragments are particles which become and remain airborne and have been subjects of aerobiological studies. The presence and the abundance of taxa in aerobiological samples can be very variable and impaired by changeable climatic conditions. Because many fungi produce mycotoxins and both their mycelium fragments and spores are potential allergens, monitoring the presence of these taxa is of key importance. So far data on exposure and sensitization to fungal allergens are mainly based on the assessment of few, easily identifiable taxa and focused only on certain environments. The microscopic method used to analyze aerobiological samples and the inconspicuous fungal characters do not allow a in depth taxonomical identification. Here, we present a first assessment of fungal diversity from airborne samples using a DNA metabarcoding analysis. The nuclear ITS2 region was selected as barcode to catch fungal diversity in mixed airborne samples gathered during two weeks in four sites of North-Eastern and Central Italy. We assessed the taxonomic composition and diversity within and among the sampled sites and compared the molecular data with those obtained by traditional microscopy. The molecular analyses provide a tenfold more comprehensive determination of the taxa than the traditional morphological inspections. Our results prove that the metabarcoding analysis is a promising approach to increases quality and sensitivity of the aerobiological monitoring. The laboratory and bioinformatic workflow implemented here is now suitable for routine, high-throughput, regional analyses of airborne fungi.

Throughout the years, DNA barcoding has gained in importance in forensic entomology as it leads to fast and reliable species determination. High-quality results, however, can only be achieved with a comprehensive DNA barcode reference database at hand. In collaboration with the Bavarian State Criminal Police Office, we have initiated at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology the establishment of a reference library containing arthropods of potential forensic relevance to be used for DNA barcoding applications. CO1-5P' DNA barcode sequences of hundreds of arthropods were obtained via DNA extraction, PCR and Sanger Sequencing, leading to the establishment of a database containing 502 high-quality sequences which provide coverage for 88 arthropod species. Furthermore, we demonstrate an application example of this library using it as a backbone to a high throughput sequencing analysis of arthropod bulk samples collected from human corpses, which enabled the identification of 31 different arthropod Barcode Index Numbers.

Environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis is a rapid, cost-effective, non-invasive biodiversity monitoring tool which utilises DNA left behind in the environment by organisms for species detection. The method is used as a species-specific survey tool for rare or invasive species across a broad range of ecosystems. Recently, eDNA and "metabarcoding" have been combined to describe whole communities rather than focusing on single target species. However, whether metabarcoding is as sensitive as targeted approaches for rare species detection remains to be evaluated. The great crested newt Triturus cristatus is a flagship pond species of international conservation concern and the first UK species to be routinely monitored using eDNA. We evaluate whether eDNA metabarcoding has comparable sensitivity to targeted real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR) for T. cristatus detection. Extracted eDNA samples (N = 532) were screened for T. cristatus by qPCR and analysed for all vertebrate species using high-throughput sequencing technology. With qPCR and a detection threshold of 1 of 12 positive qPCR replicates, newts were detected in 50% of ponds. Detection decreased to 32% when the threshold was increased to 4 of 12 positive qPCR replicates. With metabarcoding, newts were detected in 34% of ponds without a detection threshold, and in 28% of ponds when a threshold (0.028%) was applied. Therefore, qPCR provided greater detection than metabarcoding but metabarcoding detection with no threshold was equivalent to qPCR with a stringent detection threshold. The proportion of T. cristatus sequences in each sample was positively associated with the number of positive qPCR replicates (qPCR score) suggesting eDNA metabarcoding may be indicative of eDNA concentration. eDNA metabarcoding holds enormous potential for holistic biodiversity assessment and routine freshwater monitoring. We advocate this community approach to freshwater monitoring to guide management and conservation, whereby entire communities can be initially surveyed to best inform use of funding and time for species-specific surveys.

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