Finding the Links between Prey and Microplastics

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘What goes in, must come out: Combining scat‐based molecular diet analysis and quantification of ingested microplastics in a marine top predator‘ taken from Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

Wild grey seals. By Philip Newman, Natural Resources Wales

A brand new method has been developed by scientists at Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) and the University of Exeter, in collaboration with Abertay University and Greenpeace Research Laboratories, to investigate links between top predator diets and the amount of microplastic they consume through their prey. It offers potential insights into the exposure of animals in the ocean and on land to microplastics.

An estimated 9.6-25.4 million tonnes of plastic will enter the sea annually by 2025.  Microplastics in particular have been found on the highest mountains and in the deepest seas. New techniques are needed to trace, investigate and analyse this growing concern. Continue reading

Ultraconserved Elements are Widely Shared across the Tree of Life

Post provided by SILAS BOSSERT

Large-scale phylogenies are increasingly fueled by genomic-data from Ultraconserved Elements. ©Silas Bossert

Large-scale phylogenies are increasingly fuelled by genomic-data from Ultraconserved Elements. ©Silas Bossert

Sequencing ultraconserved DNA for phylogenetic research is a hot topic in evolution right now. As the name implies, Ultraconserved Elements (UCEs) are regions of the genome that are nearly identical among distantly related organisms. They can provide useful information for difficult phylogenetic questions. The list of advantages is long – among others, UCEs are:

A key reason for the method’s success is the developers’ commitment to full transparency, active tutoring, and willingness to help next-gen sequencing newbies like me to get started. Help is just a github-issue post away.

It took little to convince me that I wanted to use UCEs to reconstruct the phylogeny of one of my favourite groups of bees. I eventually met that objective but it won’t be part of this post. This blog post is about the journey to get there—the background story to the article ‘On the universality of target‐enrichment baits for phylogenomic research’. Continue reading

Using the Smith-Root ANDe System for Wildlife Conservation

POST PROVIDED BY TRACIE SEIMON, PHD

The ANDe system can help researchers tell whether endangered species are present.

The ANDe system can help researchers tell whether endangered species are present.

In recent years, there have been a lot of studies on the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) for species detection and monitoring. This method takes advantage of the fact that organisms shed DNA into the environment in the form of urine, feces, or cells from tissue such as skin. As this DNA stays in the environment, we can use molecular techniques to search for traces of it. By doing this, we can determine if a species lives in a particular place.

At the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), we’re integrating and using the ANDe system in combination with ultra-portable qPCR (quantitative polymerase chain reaction) and DNA extraction technologies developed by Biomeme Inc. for eDNA capture and species detection of endangered turtles, and other aquatic organisms. This helps us to better monitor species within our global conservation programs. Continue reading

Editor Recommendation: Assessing Strengths and Weaknesses of DNA Metabarcoding-Based Macroinvertebrate Identification for Routine Stream Monitoring

Post provided by Andrew R. Mahon

The use of molecular methods for monitoring and surveillance of organisms in aquatic and marine systems has become more and more common. We’ve since expanded this technology this through using both captured whole organisms and collecting/filtering environmental DNA (eDNA).  These methods naturally migrated from single species, active surveillance methods towards using high throughput sequencing as a method of passive surveillance via metabarcoding.

In this virtual issue, the article “Assessing strengths and weaknesses of DNA metabarcoding-based macroinvertebrate identification for routine stream monitoring” by Vasco Elbrecht et al. provides an excellent overview to the field. It also helps to clarify the work being done to provide interested groups, including management agencies, with the best practices for utilising these new methods for monitoring and surveillance.  This work will help the field, particularly for those searching for rare species of organisms in aquatic systems.

I’d recommend this paper to all researchers and management groups interested in applying metabarcoding techniques to answer both experimental and applied questions. The design of this article will provide both experienced researchers and those new to the field with important information to further this rapidly expanding field.

To find out more about, read the full Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Assessing strengths and weaknesses of DNA metabarcoding-based macroinvertebrate identification for routine stream monitoring

 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.

Microbial Methods Virtual Issue

The BES Microbial Ecology Special Interest Group is running a workshop today (Thursday 2 November) on Novel Tools for Microbial Ecology. To compliment this workshop, Xavier Harrison has edited a Virtual Issue of the best Methods in Ecology and Evolution articles on advances in methods of studying microbial evolution and ecology from the past few years.

Advances in Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) technology now allow us to study associations between hosts and their microbial communities in unprecedented detail. However, studies investigating host-microbe interactions in the field of ecology and evolution are dominated by 16S and ITS amplicon sequencing. While amplicon sequencing is a useful tool for describing microbial community composition, it is limited in its ability to quantify the function(s) performed by members of those communities. Characterising function is vital to understanding how microbes and their hosts interact, and consequently whether those interactions are adaptive for, or detrimental to, the host. The articles in this Virtual Issue cover a broad suite of approaches that allow us to study host-microbe and microbe-microbe interactions in novel ways.

All of the articles in the Microbial Methods Virtual Issue will be freely available for the next two months. You can find out a little more about each one below. Continue reading

Refined DNA Tool Tracks Native and Invasive Fish

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘Long-range PCR allows sequencing of mitochondrial genomes from environmental DNA‘ taken from the Cornell University.

©Nick Hobgood

Rather than conduct an aquatic roll call with nets to know which fish reside in a particular body of water, scientists can now use DNA fragments suspended in water to catalog invasive or native species.

The research from Cornell University, the University of Notre Dame and Hawaii Pacific University was published July 14 in Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

“We’ve sharpened the environmental DNA (eDNA) tool, so that if a river or a lake has threatened, endangered or invasive species, we can ascertain genetic detail of the species there,” said senior author David Lodge, the Francis J. DiSalvo Director of the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future at Cornell, and professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “Using eDNA, scientists can better design management options for eradicating invasive species, or saving and restoring endangered species.” Continue reading

Fast-Moving Biodiversity Assessment: Are We Already in the Future?

Post provided by Carola Gómez-Rodríguez & Alfried P. Vogler

Time flies… in the blink of an eye! And even more so in science. The molecular lab work we were used to two decades ago seems like ancient history to today’s PhD students. The speed of change in sequencing technology is so overwhelming that imagination usually fails to foresee how our daily work will be in 10 years’ time. But in the field of biodiversity assessment, we have very good clues. Next Generation Sequencing is quickly becoming our workhorse for ambitious projects of species and genetic inventories.

One by One Approach to Studying Biodiversity

For decades, most initiatives measured biodiversity in the same way: collect a sample of many individuals in the field, sort the specimens, identify them to a Linnaean species one at a time (if there was a good taxonomist in the group which, unfortunately, it is kind of lucky these days!), and count them. Or, if identification was based on molecular data, the specimen was subject to DNA extraction, to sequence one (or several) short DNA markers. This involved countless hours of work that could be saved if, instead of inventorying biodiversity specimen-by-specimen, we followed a sample-by-sample approach. To do this now, we just have to make a “biodiversity soup”.

Biodiversity assessment based on morphological identification and/or Sanger sequencing (“The one-by-one approach”)

Biodiversity assessment based on morphological identification and/or Sanger sequencing (“The one-by-one approach”)

Continue reading

Genetic Research May Help Trace Chum Salmon to Home Rivers

Below is a press release about the Methods paper ‘Potentially adaptive mitochondrial haplotypes as a tool to identify divergent nuclear loci‘ taken from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Michael Garvin sails through Auke Bay, just north of Juneau in Southeast Alaska. ©Chris Lunsford

Michael Garvin sails through Auke Bay, just north of Juneau in Southeast Alaska. ©Chris Lunsford

University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers have uncovered genetic markers that can help trace chum salmon to the rivers in which they hatched, according to a new paper published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

Mapping out chum salmon pathways could help improve management of the species in Western Alaska, according to Oregon State University Department of Integrative Biology postdoctoral fellow Michael Garvin.

“In some years, chum salmon are frequently the bycatch of pollock fishermen” in the Bering Sea, Garvin explained. “Genetically, chum salmon that originate in Western Alaska tend to look very similar. This makes it difficult for stakeholders because management and conservation efforts to address this bycatch can differ among these regions, but the ability to identify them with genetics is not possible.” Continue reading

Scat Collection Protocols for Dietary DNA Metabarcoding

DNA dietary analysis is a non-invasive tool used to identify the food consumed by vertebrates. The method relies on identifying prey DNA in the target animals’ scats. It’s especially useful for marine animals such as seals and seabirds as it is difficult to watch their feeding events.

In the video below, Julie McInnes describes scat collection protocols that she (along with Rachael Alderman, Bruce Deagle, Mary-Anne Lea, Ben Raymond and Simon Jarman) developed to optimise the detection of food DNA in vertebrate scat samples. The authors use the shy albatross to demonstrate their new methods.

Continue reading

Issue 6.8

Issue 6.8 is now online!

The August issue of Methods is now online!

This month’s issue contains two Applications article and one Open Access article, all of which are freely available.

LEA: This R package enables users to run ecological association studies from the R command line. It can perform analyses of population structure and genome scans for adaptive alleles from large genomic data sets. The package derives advantages from R programming functionalities to adjust significance values for multiple testing issues and to visualize results.

PIPITS: An open-source stand-alone suite of software for automated processing of Illumina MiSeq sequences for fungal community analysis. PIPITS exploits a number of state of the art applications to process paired-end reads from quality filtering to producing OTU abundance tables.

Giovanni Strona and Joseph Veech provide this month’s Open Access article. Many studies have focused on nestedness, a pattern reflecting the tendency of network nodes to share interaction partners, as a method of measuring the structure of ecological networks. In ‘A new measure of ecological network structure based on node overlap and segregation‘ the authors introduce a new statistical procedure to measure both this kind of structure and the opposite one (i.e. species’ tendency against sharing interacting partners).

In addition to this, our August issue features articles on Estimating Diversity, Ecological Communities and Networks, Genetic Distances and Immunology. Continue reading