Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Citizen science for taxonomy

The “rings” belonging to the genus Ypthima are amongst the most common butterflies in Peninsular Malaysia. However, the species can be difficult to tell apart, with keys relying on minor and often non-discrete ring characters found on the hindwing. Seven species have been reported from Peninsular Malaysia, but this is thought to be an underestimate of diversity.

This sounds like a typical intro to a DNA-barcoding-can-help story, almost too trivial to write about after so many similar posts. However, what makes this standing out to me is the way samples were collected for a new study that appeared in Genome. Results were in part obtained by the Peninsular Malaysia Butterfly Count which is a citizen science project involving school children.

165 DNA barcodes later, bolstered with data on wing and genital morphology, the colleagues are ready to reappraise the local species diversity of this genus. The study raised the species count of Ypthima for Malaysia from seven species to eight but:

We also found evidence for two previously unrecorded species of undetermined correspondence to any Linnaean species names based on samples provided by citizen scientists.

These two BINs of the genus Ypthima were collected by the citizen science project and indeed they did not correspond to any species previously reported for Peninsular Malaysia.

The example here of Ypthima is just another case demonstrating the role of DNA barcodes, and particularly databases like BOLD, allowing “online quantum contributions” for advancing taxonomic progress and efficient biodiversity communication.

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