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

New eDNA Programme Makes Conservation Research Faster and More Efficient

Below is a press release about the Methods in Ecology and Evolution article ‘Anacapa Toolkit: An environmental DNA toolkit for processing multilocus metabarcode datasets‘ taken from UCLA.

It’s estimated that a person sheds between 30,000 to 40,000 skin cells per day. These cells and their associated DNA leave genetic traces of ourselves in showers, dust — pretty much everywhere we go.

Other organisms shed cells, too, leaving traces throughout their habitats. This leftover genetic material is known as environmental DNA, or eDNA. Research using eDNA began about a decade ago, but was largely limited to a small cadre of biologists who were also experts in computers and big data. However, a new tool from UCLA could be about to make the field accessible and useful to many more scientists.

A team of UCLA researchers recently launched the Anacapa Toolkit — open-source software that makes eDNA research easier, allowing researchers to detect a broad range of species quickly and producing sortable results that are simple to understand. Continue reading

Overcoming the Challenges of Studying Soil Nematodes: A New Approach with Implications for All (Soil) Organisms

Post provided by Stefan Geisen

(Soil) Nematodes

“…if all the matter in the universe except the nematodes were swept away, our world would still be dimly recognizable, and if, as disembodied spirits, we could then investigate it, we should find its mountains, hills, vales, rivers, lakes, and oceans represented by a film of nematodes…” (Cobb 1914)

He may have said it more than a century ago but we now, more than ever, realise that Nathan Augustus Cobb was right. Nematodes are by far the most abundant animals soil, freshwater and marine ecosystems. These tiny worms are barely visible to the human eye (if they’re visible at all), hundreds can inhabit a single gram of soil . Their similar shape might lead you to think that they’re all alike, but that’s not the case. More than 25,000 species have been identified and estimates put their entire species diversity in the 100,000s.

Some common nematode species found in most soils. a) Plectus sp; b) Aphelenchus sp; c) Helicotylenchus sp; d) Thonus sp; e) Mononchus sp; © Wageningen University, Laboratory of Nematology, NL; Hanny van Megen

Some common nematode species found in most soils. a) Plectus sp, b) Aphelenchus sp, c) Helicotylenchus sp, d) Thonus sp, e) Mononchus sp. © Wageningen University, Laboratory of Nematology, NL; Hanny van Megen

This taxonomic and functional diversity has boosted nematodes to become useful bioindicators for soil quality. Nematodes perform many different functions in both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. These are mainly defined by what they eat:

  • Bacteria/Fungi: Many nematode groups eat bacteria and fungi. They control the population of these organisms and keep them active.
  • Plants: Plant feeders are the unwanted guests in agricultural systems as well as in our gardens. They can destroy entire harvests by piercing into or infiltrating roots.
  • Omnivores/Predators: Many nematode species prey on other smaller organisms including smaller nematodes and control their abundances.
  • Parasites: These species inhabit other larger organisms and can act as biocontrol agents.

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.

Practical Tools: A New Article Type and a Virtual Issue

Today, we’re pleased to announce that we’re launching a new article type for Methods in Ecology and Evolution: Practical Tools. Like our Applications articles, Practical Tools will be short papers (up to 3000 words). They’ll focus on new field techniques, equipment or lab protocols. From this point forward, our Applications papers will solely focus on software and code.

Practical tools need to clearly demonstrate how tools designed for specific systems or problems can be adapted for more general use. Online supporting information can include specific instructions, especially for building equipment. You can find some examples of Applications that would now fit into this article type here and here.

To help launch our new article type, we asked four of our Associate Editors – Pierre Durand, Graziella Iossa, Nicolas Lecomte and Andrew Mahon – to put together a Virtual Issue of papers about Field Methods that have previously been published in the journal. All of the articles in ‘Practical Tools: A Field Methods Virtual Issue‘ will be free to everyone for the next month. You can find out a bit more about each of the four sections of the Virtual Issue below. Continue reading

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

Assessment of Stream Health with DNA Metabarcoding

Following on from last week’s press release ‘How Clean are Finnish Rivers?’, Vasco Elbrecht et al. have produced a video to explain the methods in ‘Assessing strengths and weaknesses of DNA metabarcoding-based macroinvertebrate identification for routine stream monitoring‘.

In this video, the authors explore the potential of DNA metabarcoding to access stream health using macroinvertebrates. They compared DNA and morphology-based identification of bulk monitoring samples from 18 Finnish stream ecosystems. DNA-based methods show higher taxonomic resolution and similar assessment results as currently used morphology-based methods. Their study shows that the tested DNA-based methods integrate well with current approaches, but further optimisation and validation of DNA metabarcoding methods is encouraged.

This video is based on the article ‘Assessing strengths and weaknesses of DNA metabarcoding-based macroinvertebrate identification for routine stream monitoring‘ by Elbrecht et al.

 

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