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A fossilized species of the diatom Thalassiosira. B. A species of the dinoflagellate Prorocentrum. Image provided by A. Ndhlovu).
A fossilized species of the diatom Thalassiosira. B. A species of the dinoflagellate Prorocentrum. (Image provided by A. Ndhlovu).

As any reader of Methods in Ecology and Evolution will know, advances in technologies and methodologies used by ecologists and evolutionary biologists are never-ending. Coupled with the tendency for researchers to become ever more specialised, this means that keeping up to date with all the advances is challenging at best. Occasionally, new advances revolutionise the kinds of questions we ask and encourage us to develop new approaches to answer them. One of these huge advances emerged from the ‘-omics’ revolution.

The application of -omics methodologies to evolution and ecology has been particularly rapid. These technologies usually aren’t part of the basic science education in these fields – it’s more usual for computational biologists to cross over to ecology and evolution than the other way around. The review by Simon Creer and colleagues ’The ecologist’s field guide to sequence-based identification of biodiversity’ helps bridge this gap. It’s not too technical, but sufficiently detailed, and it provides a very handy overview of how genomics, transcriptomics and their meta-analyses can be applied to evolutionary ecology. The paper is filled with enormously helpful workflows, pointers, examples and, as the title suggests, is a guide for those who are not experts in sequence based technologies.

The methodologies covered are applicable to organisms at all scales, from macrofauna and flora to microbial diversity. And there’s a wide range of questions that can be answered. At one end of the spectrum, sequence data are used for identifying organisms of interest in a particular ecological context (see the example of a Prorocentrum species causing a devastating algal bloom), or profiling of the entire microbial community at the transcriptome level. At the other end of the spectrum, metatranscriptomic analyses can be used to identify functional modules at the molecular level (see the example of functional metatranscriptomics of Thalassiosira species).

I have no hesitation in recommending this review to any biologist who may find themselves at the intersection of the -omics and evolutionary ecology fields. The article will prompt interesting research questions, whatever your subject area.

To find out more about, read the full Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘The ecologist’s field guide to sequence-based identification of biodiversity

This article is part of ‘Practical Tools: A Field Methods Virtual Issue’. All articles in this Virtual Issue will be available for a limited time.