DNA Barcoding Aquatic Life: New Insights for Biodiversity Science

An aerial photo of El Padre Lagoon, near Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Photo Credit: Manuel Elías Gutierrez

From Peruvian and Brazilian coastal wetlands, Mexican lagoons, and the Great Lakes in America to Sundaland and China, and many other places around the Pacific, a new special issue, “Aquatic Organisms Research with DNA Barcodes,” published by Diversity, features scientific papers exploring new insights about life under the water through DNA technologies.

“While DNA barcoding is a standard method for identifying specimens and discovering new species, there are still gaps in the DNA barcode library when it comes to aquatic invertebrates and plants,” said Dr. Manuel Elías‐Gutiérrez, a professor of aquatic systems and ecology, at El Colegio de la Frontera Sur (ECOSUR).

“This research begins to fill some important gaps, which will benefit science and conservation.”

The Diversity issue, released in April, examines rotifers, fishes, red algae, and groups of invertebrates such as mites, chironomids, cladocerans, copepods, and decapods. For example, one study describes genetic differences between angel sharks in the Eastern Pacific Ocean where science has been unclear on the geographic distribution of two species, Squatina californica and the Chilean Squatina armata. Researchers found they could rapidly flag undescribed species using DNA in poorly studied regions and within groups of ecologically and economically important groups. Another study uncovered three new species of the Keratella genus in central Mexico’s high altitude water systems. In North America’s Great Lakes, researchers used DNA barcodes to explore the diets of water mites.

Elías-Gutiérrez, a member of the International Barcode of Life (iBOL) Consortium, says that the issue contributes vital data to iBOL’s current global research program, BIOSCAN, and its mission to illuminate biodiversity on a global scale through its three research themes: Species Discovery, Species Interactions, and Species Distribution.

All life on our planet depends on aquatic life, Elías-Gutiérrez explained, however, aquatic organisms – other than fishes – have not been as extensively documented and analyzed compared to terrestrial life.

“We must not forget to explore and promote research on aquatic environments; our permanence in this world will depend on them,” said Elías-Gutiérrez. “We cannot protect what we do not know, in this case, aquatic biodiversity.”

To access Diversity‘s “Aquatic Organisms Research with DNA Barcodes,” please visit: https://www.mdpi.com/journal/diversity/special_issues/Aquatic_Barcodes

Preparing a light trap in a sinkhole in Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Photo Credit: Martha Valdez-Moreno
A bright light illuminates the water and shore of a sinkhole, revealing reflections of trees and the night sky and attracting various insects.
A light trap in action. Photo Credit: Martha Valdez-Moreno

Learn more about iBOL

The International Barcode of Life Consortium is a research alliance undertaking the largest global biodiversity science initiative: create a digital identification system for life that is accessible to everyone

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