30 million reasons you will be missed

30 million reasons you will be missed

30 million reasons you will be missed

Pioneer field biologist, entomologist, and mentor, Terry Erwin passes away at age 79
Erwin supervising the trees at work, the Tiputini Research Station, Ecuador, 2013. PHOTO CREDIT: Beulah Garner

The world lost a brilliant mind last week when Terry L. Erwin passed away on May 11, 2020, at the age of 79. Many among us in the scientific community feel this great loss, for you did not need to have personally known, or even have met Erwin to recognize the name or appreciate the significance of his work.

    Erwin not only published prolifically on beetle systematics – describing four tribes, 22 genera, and 439 species of Carabidae – but also tremendously influenced the way many think about biodiversity.

    “He brought alive for many the far-off world and the mysteries therein of the neotropics,” said Beulah Garner, Senior Curator at the Natural History Museum in London, and Erwin’s colleague and friend of nine years. “I think it was the first time anyone, through their scientific exploration, had made a place and a fauna at once seem magical, touchable, and quantifiable.”

    Erwin was serving as a research entomologist and curator of Coleoptera at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History at the time of his death. He was a pioneer in neotropical conservation biology and canopy research, having developed the study of tree canopy insects into an academic discipline as early as 1974.

    Notably, in his small paper in 1982 that examined canopy beetles and host plant relationships to understand the number of species present in an acre of Panamanian forest, Erwin dramatically expanded our conception of terrestrial insect diversity.

    Graphical abstract of Erwin’s 1982 paper IMAGE CREDIT: Michelle Lynn D’Souza

    As a young graduate student interested in using DNA barcoding to evaluate insect diversity in Central America and to assess global diversity estimates, Erwin’s work was a guidepost for my own research. His 1982 publication was particularly iconic. Ironically, it was in the last ‘throwaway’ paragraph (as he described it) – suggesting the presence of 30 million arthropod species, at the time estimated to be around one-and-a half million – that he sparked a global debate about the number of species on the planet.

    Even years later, he was enduring in his defense of the ‘30 million’ estimate, according to Garner. His holistic approach to field biology, with Carabidae at its core, enabled him to understand the relatedness of species as well as the mechanisms that drive such incredible diversity so clearly. “Even higher [than 30 million] he would say! And, having been in the field with him, with his meticulous observations of the microverse, his pioneering investigations into the forest canopy, I absolutely believe him,” said Garner. “These were not assumptions from a dataset, a modelling outcome, these were from direct in-field observations: a true naturalist.” While his estimate has been debated, refuted, and revised to approximately seven million arthropod species, the discussion remains active today.

    A true naturalist at home in the jungles of Yasuni National Park, Ecuador, 2018.
    PHOTO CREDIT: Beulah Garner

    While always having been interested in DNA-based techniques, it was not until much later in Erwin’s career that he used it in his own work. Heavily involved in the field of systematics, he was among the first of those in the early 1980s that experienced its infusion with the beginnings of gene sequencing. While in its own right revolutionary, sequencing technology was just another tool to study the natural world, one that would eventually be replaced by the tricorder, Erwin explained to Dr. Bilgenur Baloglu, then a Ph.D. student at the National University of Singapore studying chironomid diversity, in an interview during the International Congress of Entomology in Florida in 2016. He was referring to DNA barcoding and the beginnings of Drs. Paul Hebert and Dan Janzen’s tests with Costa Rican moths.

    As noted by Dr. Scott Miller, science committee member of the International Barcode of Life Consortium (iBOL) and deputy undersecretary at the Smithsonian Institution, Erwin was always enthusiastic about collaborations between iBOL and the Smithsonian to barcode insect genera, such as that currently funded by the Global Genome Initiative (GGI). He is the main reason that Carabid beetles were one of the first families covered under the project, contributing substantially to the species barcoded and deposited on the Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD), according to Miller. He also collaborated with Dr. Carlos Garcia-Robledo and others at the Smithsonian on a series of papers on insect-host plant relationships, among many others, that used DNA barcoding to identify the gut contents of insect herbivores as well as egg and larval plant associations to reconstruct species interactions in tropical networks.

    Miller first began working with Erwin in 1986 at the Smithsonian Institution as a postdoctoral fellow. Together they had a vision that became the Biodiversity in Latin America Tropics (BIOLAT), a program based around standardized sampling, something that may seem logical now, but was novel in fields like entomology at the time, according to Miller. Since then, a lot of other organizations have tried similar standardized programs but have struggled under the weight of the taxonomic impediment.  “When seen against this background, iBOL initiatives such as the Global Malaise Program or BioAlfa are truly amazing,” said Miller. “It is most unfortunate that DNA barcoding was not available when Terry started canopy fogging!”

    Erwin canopy fogging at 4 a.m. at the Onkone Gare camp, Yasuni National Park, Ecuador, 2018.
    PHOTO CREDIT: Beulah Garner

    From planning BIOLAT, to consulting for Biosphere 2 (the subject of the documentary ‘Spaceship Earth’), to the initial canopy fogging endeavour in Papua New Guinea (PNG) that eventually led to the Binatang Research Center and the PNG insect ecology program, Erwin encouraged, guided, and inspired Miller’s endeavours for years.

    Terry understood the importance of nurturing the next generation of talent, and especially the importance of diversifying the [scientific] pipeline.

    Dr. Scott Miller

    Science committee member of the International Barcode of Life Consortium (iBOL) and deputy undersecretary at the Smithsonian Institution

    “Terry understood the importance of nurturing the next generation of talent, and especially the importance of diversifying the [scientific] pipeline,” says Miller. “Terry was always eager to provide opportunities for young scientists, especially women, and people from developing countries.” While working together at the Smithsonian, Miller recounts how Erwin always hosted interns and fellows, bringing them to meetings and conferences, and trying to connect them to future opportunities.

    Erwin had the greatest spirit of academic generosity, quick to provide advice, a reference from his encyclopedic library, or specimens for one’s own research, according to Garner. Erwin nurtured a passion for discovery in many students and inspired it in even more biologists. As he told Bilgenur back in 2016, you do not become a biologist if you are out for money, but you do it for the joy of being out in the field. “For me, the bottom line is if you like fieldwork, be a biologist. It’s the best place to be,” said Erwin in her interview. “If you are out in the rainforest, every single day, actually maybe every hour, there’s a tremendous discovery. And that’s what’s really rewarding – discovery.”

    Erwin hunting Carabidae near the Tiputini Research Station, Ecuador, 2013.
    PHOTO CREDIT: Beulah Garner

    In the field, Garner recounts, Erwin would wake early, sit by the Tiputini river with black coffee and binoculars, and study the jungle whilst it woke. “Canopy fogging is a race to finish before the dawn and Terry was indefatigable,” said Garner. “It’s 4 a.m. in the primary jungles of South America, you’re setting up your traps, and Terry is right beside you, overseeing operations as if the rainforest were his orchestra and he the conductor.” In the evening after supper with head torch and aspirator, it would be time to go on a Carabidae hunt.

    It’s 4 a.m. in the primary jungles of South America, you’re setting up your traps, and Terry is right beside you, overseeing operations, as if the rainforest were his orchestra and he the conductor.

    Beulah Garner

    Senior Curator at the Natural History Museum, London

    He was fearless, saving Garner from a pack of marauding peccaries in Ecuador, as well as rescuing her from bivouacking army ants as they surrounded their camp in the dead of night. “He was and is the reason I endeavour to be a good field biologist,” said Garner. “His compassion and consideration and genuine every-day awe for the natural world is a method to live and work by.”

    Beulah Garner (left) and Terry Erwin (right) inspecting the flight intercept traps, Tiputini Research Station, Ecuador, 2013. PHOTO CREDIT: Dr. Kelly Swing

    Erwin very much valued the natural world, possessing an astute understanding of it that unfortunately, he takes with him. He feared having species reduced to just a sequence and believed that the rich natural history and the awe that the living world inspires in us needed to be accounted for as well, sentiments that led him to catalyze the Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) in 2004, according to Nana Naisbitt, EOL co-catalyst, founder of Chalkboard, and Erwin’s dear friend of 22 years. The EOL makes knowledge about life on Earth globally accessible and has had a long-standing collaboration with BOLD.

    As Naisbitt explained, Erwin was a profound mentor, one who changed the course of her life and the lives of many others through her work and her connection to him. He effectively snowballed Naisbitt’s career as a science champion, instrumental in her founding the Pinhead Institute, a science education non-profit and Smithsonian Affiliate. He was also key to many community outreach and mentorship programs while she worked as Executive Director of the Telluride Science Research Center, a job she got because of her work as the director of Pinhead. “It’s just impossible to say how many people he impacted,” said Naisbitt. “Terry liked to say that he plants seeds – ideas in students – and watches them grow. He planted countless seeds that grew strong and bright.”

    In Naisbitt’s assessment, Erwin was able to help so many people flourish because he possessed a phenomenal gift in the way he supported them and gave them confidence without being intrusive. “He connected me to the right people, then showed up for and supported me. Most times he would just sit there quietly in meetings and let me do the talking,” said Naisbitt. “His reputation and presence were enough – it conveyed the message, ‘I anoint this person’. In that way, he was so unbelievably respectful.”

    Naisbitt said that she had the impression Erwin believed he stood on the shoulders of giants. She described to me this image she had of him, of someone reaching down and pulling up younger scientists to stand on his shoulders. “And he did that so well. He did it over and over again, with immense generosity and without ego. And that is so rare.”

    His reputation and presence were enough – it conveyed the message, ‘I anoint this person’. In that way, he was so unbelievably respectful.

    Nana Naisbitt

    Founder of Chalkboard

    When Dr. Marlin Rice, back in a 2015 interview, asked Erwin how he would like others to remember him, his answer was simple – by what his students do. The influence a mentor has on their students and them on theirs, he described, is an unbroken chain that keeps connecting generations of thinkers. Erwin told Rice, “There’s this chain all the way from the great old-timers down through George [Ball – his Ph.D. mentor] and his students and what I’d like to do is to keep that chain going.”

    Indeed, Erwin’s brilliance, passion, and dedication for science extended those chains far beyond his students and colleagues, to countless others across space, like me. As the value of his research will certainly endure, those chains will also extend across time. Erwin was undoubtedly one of the rare ones among us whose influence has had, and will continue to have, an extraordinary reach.

    Don't Miss Out!

    Subscribe to the iBOL Barcode Bulletin for updates on DNA barcoding efforts, the iBOL Consortium, and more.

    comment on this article

    The Barcode Bulletin moderates comments to promote an informed and courteous conversation. Abusive, profane, self-promotional, or incoherent comments will be rejected. 

    Judge a caterpillar by what they eat, not where they’re found

    Judge a caterpillar by what they eat, not where they’re found

    Judge a caterpillar by what they eat, not where they’re found

    Gut content analysis of Peruvian caterpillars reveals new insights into host-plant relationships and the methods used to examine species interactions key to BIOSCAN

    The original primary rainforest surrounding Panguana station, Peru, Dept Huánuco, western Amazonia.

    PHOTO CREDIT: K. Wothe

    Understanding species and their associations with each other and with the environment – a key aspect of synecological research – is of great importance. For example, data on insect-host plant relationships can aid investigations into food webs and extrapolations of global species numbers as well as inform forestry, agriculture, and conservation practices.

    Supported by the Bavarian Ministry of Science (‘SNSB-Innovativ’), our recent pilot study examined the gut contents of Peruvian caterpillars demonstrating the potential for gathering large-scale data on species interactions when applying DNA barcoding and high-throughput sequencing technologies. We obtained 130 caterpillars (moth larvae) by canopy fogging at the Panguana research station, an area of tropical primary forest in western Amazonia. DNA barcode analysis resulted in 119 successfully sequenced larvae, more than half of which matched with moth reference sequences on BOLD. Surprisingly high biodiversity was uncovered from our modest sample – 92 BINs or species proxies. The trees from which caterpillars were collected were also identified, both by morphology and DNA barcoding.

    Panguana research station, Peru, Dept Huánuco, western Amazonia, with the characteristic Lupuna tree (Ceiba pentandra, Malvaceae) in the background.

    PHOTO CREDIT: J. Diller

    Knowing the tree and larva identity is not enough to conclude a host-plant relationship, particularly in a dense tropical rainforest. Caterpillars may in fact be feeding on the epiphytes, lianas, lichens, algae, fungi, or mosses associated with trees (i.e., alternative feeding), and sometimes larvae may have been fogged down from neighbouring trees. To confirm a direct insect-host plant relationship, we partnered with the company Advanced Identification Methods (AIM) to design a high-throughput sequencing (HTS) protocol with plant markers (rbcL, psbA) that would enable the identification of plant matter from the gut contents of ten larvae. Results revealed only two matches between the fogged tree and larval gut content which suggests a rather high percentage of alternative feeding. In three cases, the gut content clearly indicated feeding on lianas and neighbouring trees. Interestingly, the analysis of four larvae resulted in the putative presence of Bryophyta, suggesting moss-feeding in Lepidoptera, a phenomenon rarely observed. Potential contamination (for example, through the diffusion of plant DNA into the alcohol of the bulk sample) has yet to be ruled out, work which is currently being validated in a subsequent project investigating the gut contents of an additional 190 larvae.

    Automeris denticulata (Conte, 1906) (Saturniidae): Larva (left), selected from canopy fogging bulk samples of a Poulsenia (Moraceae) tree at the Panguana station, identified by its COI barcode; Adult (right), collected at the Panguana station.

    PHOTO CREDIT: Mei-Yu Chen & Dr. R. Mörtter

    Our approach of combined canopy fogging, DNA-based identification, and gut content analysis resulted in two key findings. First, a significant portion of both insect and plant taxa can be identified even in highly diverse, tropical regions – more than 97% to a family level and about 80% to a species or genus level. Secondly, we can successfully confirm or reject the hypothesis that caterpillars feed on the trees where they are collected by identifying their diets through an HTS protocol on gut contents. Importantly, the taxonomic resolution of animal and plant identifications will increase with further investments into DNA reference libraries. We recommend specimen de-contamination (e.g. by bleaching) and/or isolated storage of the target taxa rather than bulk storage to improve the reliability of gut content analysis.

    Urania leilus (Linnaeus, 1758) (Uraniidae): Larva (left), selected from canopy fogging bulk samples of an Oxandra polyantha (Annonaceae) tree at the Panguana station, identified by its COI barcode; Adult (right).

    PHOTO CREDIT: Mei-Yu Chen & Dr. J. Diller

    The techniques employed in our pilot have immense potential for unveiling trophic interactions in tropical regions at a very large scale as they are fast and cost-effective. The latter is enabled, in part, by the availability of target specimens in the by-catch of other studies. For example, our efforts fogging 150 trees in a separate project assessing the biodiversity of ants have resulted in 1,200 lepidopteran larvae. Subsequent aspects of the workflow, from selecting the larvae from bulk samples, tissue sampling, photography, and databasing, required 10–20 minutes per larva and can be performed with relatively low expertise. The costs for subsequent lab work, i.e. identification of larvae and their gut contents, currently amount to 20–25 € per larva and these costs will soon drop considerably. In contrast, traditional approaches involving the searching and rearing of larvae, and the identification of hatched adults by experts is massively time and resource consuming.

    Providing reliable data on trophic interactions is one of the major goals of the BIOSCAN program, one that will be a powerful tool for investigating food webs, for determining the amplitude of alternative or multiple feeding sources, and for the study of phagism (monophagy versus polyphagy), thus gaining data for extrapolations of global species numbers. These data will also be particularly important for pest management in forestry, and agriculture, and for conservation purposes.

    Overcoming the current lack of knowledge is a major challenge, particularly in ecoregions with megadiverse faunas and floras. Yet, its success is imperative for humanity considering the unprecedented biodiversity losses we currently face. In this context, the recently launched BIOSCAN with its focus on revealing species interactions will embolden an important plan for the international research community to come together in understanding nature and conserving it for a sustainable future.

     

    Read the complete manuscript in PLoS ONE.

    Written by

    Axel Hausmann

    Axel Hausmann

    Juliane Diller

    Juliane Diller

    Amelie Höcherl

    Amelie Höcherl

    SNSB – Staatliche Naturwissenschaftliche Sammlungen Bayerns - Zoologische Staatssammlung München, Munich, Germany

    May 6, 2020
    https://doi.org/10.21083/ibol.v10i1.6133 

    Don't Miss Out!

    Subscribe to the iBOL Barcode Bulletin for updates on DNA barcoding efforts, the iBOL Consortium, and more.

    Related articles

    HOW A TROPICAL COUNTRY CAN DNA BARCODE ITSELF

    by Dan Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs | Oct 2, 2019

    DNA BARCODING AND GENOMICS IN THE MEGADIVERSE AMAZON ALTITUDE FIELDS

    by Guilherme Oliveira, Gisele Nunes, Rafael Valadares, Ronnie Alves and Santelmo Vasconcelos | Apr 7, 2019

    comment on this article

    The Barcode Bulletin moderates comments to promote an informed and courteous conversation. Abusive, profane, self-promotional, or incoherent comments will be rejected. 

    BIOSCAN: tracking biodiversity on Earth

    BIOSCAN: tracking biodiversity on Earth

    BIOSCAN: tracking biodiversity on Earth

    iBOL’s new seven-year, $180 million global research program that aims to revolutionize our understanding of biodiversity and our capacity to manage it.
    January 20, 2019 By the International Barcode of Life Consoritum – ibol.org

    BIOSCAN is iBOL’s new seven-year, $180 million global research program that aims to revolutionize our understanding of biodiversity and our capacity to manage it. Involving scientists, research organizations, and citizens, BIOSCAN will explore three major research themes: Species Discovery, Species Interactions, Species Dynamics.

    iBOL (International Barcode of Life Consortium) involves researchers in 30+ nations who share a mission to transform biodiversity science through DNA-based approaches with DNA barcoding at its core. iBOL works in partnership with academic, government, and private sector organizations.

    For more information on BIOSCAN and iBOL visit: ibol.org

    Additional video footage provided by:

    Centre for Biodiversity Genomics, University of Guelph, Canada
    Hakai Institute, Canada

    Don't Miss Out!

    Subscribe to the iBOL Barcode Bulletin for updates on DNA barcoding efforts, the iBOL Consortium, and more.

    Also in BIOSCAN

    HOW A TROPICAL COUNTRY CAN DNA BARCODE ITSELF

    by Dan Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs | Oct 2, 2019

    comment on this article

    The Barcode Bulletin moderates comments to promote an informed and courteous conversation. Abusive, profane, self-promotional, or incoherent comments will be rejected. 

    BIOSCAN: Illuminating biodiversity and supporting sustainability

    BIOSCAN: Illuminating biodiversity and supporting sustainability

    BIOSCAN: Illuminating biodiversity and supporting sustainability

    The iBOL Consortium launches a research program that seeks to discover species and reveal their interactions and dynamics

    BIOSCAN: Illuminating biodiversity and supporting sustainability

    The iBOL Consortium launches a research program that seeks to discover species and reveal their interactions and dynamics

    Written by

    Donald Hobern

    Donald Hobern

    Executive Secretary, International Barcode of Life Consortium

    October 2, 2019
    https://doi.org/10.21083/ibol.v9i1.5527

    Newsletter

    Get the Barcode Bulletin delivered to your inbox

    The International Barcode of Life Consortium (iBOL) launched its new research program BIOSCAN in June 2019, to scale up its efforts to inventory life on Earth at a time when an ecological crisis is threatening the planet.

    Recent reports from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have highlighted the scale of the pressures that threaten the environment and that are triggering a massive extinction event. Public awareness of these issues is growing and there are increasing demands for policymakers to work to support the environment and to focus on sustainable solutions.

    Large-scale datasets are key to empowering societies and politicians to make these changes. Such data are available for some global systems, such as climate and land cover, and national scale datasets are often available for agriculture, human population, and land use. However, at present, biodiversity is not represented at the level of detail or at the scale and frequency required to support decision-making.

     

    The International Barcode of Life Consortium (iBOL) launched its new research program BIOSCAN in June 2019, to scale up its efforts to inventory life on Earth at a time when an ecological crisis is threatening the planet.

    Recent reports from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have highlighted the scale of the pressures that threaten the environment and that are triggering a massive extinction event. Public awareness of these issues is growing and there are increasing demands for policymakers to work to support the environment and to focus on sustainable solutions.

    Large-scale datasets are key to empowering societies and politicians to make these changes. Such data are available for some global systems, such as climate and land cover, and national scale datasets are often available for agriculture, human population, and land use. However, at present, biodiversity is not represented at the level of detail or at the scale and frequency required to support decision-making.

     

    iBOL has been acquiring growing volumes of data on species and their distributions since 2010 with their first research program BARCODE 500K. By 2015, the program had delivered DNA barcodes representing 500,000 species via its online database called the Barcode of Life Data System (BOLD). These standardized reference sequences have offered researchers everywhere a transformational tool for rapid species identification as well as range of applications across taxonomy, biogeography, ecology, biosecurity, and conservation. The benefits to researchers, policymakers, and the wider public are likely to be even greater through widespread adoption of metabarcoding as a survey tool. Metabarcoding uses DNA barcodes for cheap and efficient assessment of which species are found in a bulk sample or have left residual traces of their DNA in water, soil, and other substrates (“environmental DNA” or eDNA).

    Species identification has always been a central challenge for biological research, a task that has relied on the skill-base of the international taxonomic community and the deep and complex foundation of a quarter millennium of work naming and describing species. The importance and difficulty of being able to assign a name to any arbitrary organism of interest and the shortage of trained taxonomists and curators to do this work has become known as the taxonomic impediment and is recognized as an international problem. DNA barcoding has already revolutionized approaches and expectations around detection and diagnosis of species of interest. These changes have been most significant in contexts where morphological taxonomy has been most difficult, such as separation of cryptic species, identification of fragments or products derived from organisms, and recognition of species from poorly-characterized life stages.

    BIOSCAN is accelerating support for reviewing and describing the millions of species still lacking scientific names. The Barcode Index Number (BIN) system offered by BOLD simplifies analysis and presentation of well-defined sets of specimens as diagnosable units of biodiversity. Each BIN represents a cluster of individuals that show minimal variation in the standard barcode markers and, in many cases, these clusters will correspond to different species that live and reproduce separately in the environment.

     

    The BARCODE 500K research program established the sequencing facilities, analytical protocols, informatics platforms, and international collaboration needed to build the DNA barcode reference library. Building on this success, BIOSCAN launched in June 2019 to scan life and codify species interactions while expanding the reference library and demonstrating its utility. BIOSCAN will be the foundation for the Planetary Biodiversity Mission, a mission to save our living planet.

    BIOSCAN is accelerating support for reviewing and describing the millions of species still lacking scientific names. The Barcode Index Number (BIN) system offered by BOLD simplifies analysis and presentation of well-defined sets of specimens as diagnosable units of biodiversity. Each BIN represents a cluster of individuals that show minimal variation in the standard barcode markers and, in many cases, these clusters will correspond to different species that live and reproduce separately in the environment.

     

    Since organisms can be assigned to a BIN even when no scientific name is available and even when the exact taxonomic significance of the BIN is unclear, the expanded collecting and sequencing effort planned for BIOSCAN can both assist taxonomists to work more rapidly and efficiently and can offer an interim framework for categorizing and mapping taxonomic units pending full taxonomic review. The significance of such a framework cannot be underestimated. Without a proper and timely catalogue of the units of biodiversity, we cannot fully study or understand the species with which we share the planet and with which our own future is intertwined.

    As a result of delivering an efficient tool for identifying and classifying any organism, we gain the ability to explore and track the patterns of communities and ecosystems through time and space. This is especially important for understanding hyperdiverse groups and megadiverse regions. Detailed community analysis is unachievable, or at least unscalable when it depends on sorting and identifying thousands of cryptic organisms, which is the situation for most insects, fungi or marine organisms. As sequencing technologies and bioinformatics capabilities continue to advance, these same difficult groups can be routinely and regularly sampled and described. This offers whole new windows into the structure, ecology, and dynamics of each ecosystem, opening up unprecedented opportunities to understand and respond to biological systems. Perhaps most importantly of all, high-bandwidth DNA-based monitoring of biodiversity can support intelligent approaches to landscape-level conservation, agriculture and pest management, and response to climate change.

    BIOSCAN will lay the foundation for an earth observation system. It will examine biological communities from at least half the world’s ecoregions to begin the task of compiling comprehensive biodiversity baselines.

    BIOSCAN comes at a time when technological advances are combining with the rich data held in BOLD to increase the cost-effectiveness of barcoding and metabarcoding. The iBOL community internationally, and particularly the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics (CBG) at Guelph, are at the forefront in exploiting next-generation sequencing. iBOL’s approach is to use the power and scale of these platforms to focus on a narrow subset of each species’ genome as the tool that cheaply permits the broadest possible detection and identification of any species.

     

    Going even further, the sensitivity of these platforms is unlocking the often-hidden relationships between species, allowing us to document these interactions and clarify their role in structuring biological communities. Every organism interacts with representatives of other species as hosts or food and itself supports or contains a universe of parasites and microbes. These relationships have complex effects on the role that each species plays in each ecosystem. In the past, these associated species have often been detected as a source of potential confusion while deriving reference barcodes from specimens. Increased sensitivity from sequencing platforms will allow BIOSCAN to start treating these intermingled sequences not as noise but as a tool to document the set of species associated with a specimen, the organism’s symbiome.

    BIOSCAN will use taxonomically targeted primer sets on the DNA extract from single specimens to reveal their commensals, mutualists, parasites and parasitoids – the symbiome.

    Going even further, the sensitivity of these platforms is unlocking the often hidden relationships between species, allowing us to document these interactions and clarify their role in structuring biological communities. Every organism interacts with representatives of other species as hosts or food and itself supports or contains a universe of parasites and microbes. These relationships have complex effects on the role that each species plays in each ecosystem. In the past, these associated species have often been detected as a source of potential confusion while deriving reference barcodes from specimens. Increased sensitivity from sequencing platforms will allow BIOSCAN to start treating these intermingled sequences not as noise but as a tool to document the set of species associated with a specimen, the organism’s symbiome.

    iBOL’s new program will use these advances to build on the foundations of BARCODE 500K and deliver the reference data, tools, and processes that will allow the world to survey and monitor all life. BIOSCAN’s three main research themes aim to (1) increase the coverage of the barcode reference library to at least two million species, (2) exploit the power of new sequencing platforms to survey species communities at thousands of sites across different ecoregions and (3) to probe the biotic associations of millions of individual organisms. The CBG team has invested not only in upgrading sequencing hardware to support the scale and complexity of BIOSCAN but also in the informatics capability required to support it, now available as the Multiplex Barcode Research and Visualization Environment (mBRAVE). iBOL will also use this program to address outstanding issues around marker genes and sequencing protocols for challenging taxonomic groups and to standardize approaches to sampling taxa in different environments and ecosystems.

    The efficiency of barcoding as a tool for identifying species or for validating other identifications also positions BIOSCAN as an essential activity in support of other genomics activities. The Earth Biogenome Project (EBP) and a suite of taxon-specific genomics networks aim to sequence full genomes or significant portions of the genome for many or all the world’s species. A significant challenge for these major projects will be to locate high-quality genetic material to represent each of these species. By building the reference library of DNA barcodes, each accompanied by vouchered specimens and extracted DNA, BIOSCAN’s collecting activities can also enable these projects to proceed rapidly and with high confidence. The deliverables of BIOSCAN are fully complementary to those of EBP and similar efforts. BIOSCAN will deliver the reliable look-up mechanisms that verify the identifications associated with more extensive sequencing and will also deliver the biogeographic information to understand the distribution and variation for each species, along with their interactions. Complete-genome efforts will complement this with extensive additional data from examples of each species, enabling us to explore how species function and how evolution has shaped them.

     

    By deep sequencing tens of millions of DNA extracts from single specimens and metabarcoding more than 100 million specimens from 2,000 sites spanning half the world’s ecoregions, BIOSCAN will expose countless undescribed species and reveal their distributions, dynamics and hidden interactions. Although BIOSCAN will not register all species or fully reveal their dynamics and interactions, it will be the foundation for a 20-year mission that will achieve these goals. Along the way, the aim is to develop the network to include practitioners and projects in all regions.

    Participation is sought from researchers in all countries to expand iBOL’s coalition and explore multi-cellular diversity throughout the world’s ecosystems. iBOL welcomes comments and online discussion on the draft Strategic Plan for BIOSCAN.

    We share our planet with more diversity than we yet recognise. This diversity drives the systems that keep the planet habitable for our species and those on which we depend. Now is the time to understand and monitor biodiversity everywhere. BIOSCAN is a key opportunity to make this happen.

    Please check out the following resources and contribute to delivering BIOSCAN.

    Written by

    Donald Hobern

    Donald Hobern

    Executive Secretary, International Barcode of Life Consortium

    October 2, 2019
    https://doi.org/10.21083/ibol.v9i1.5527

    Newsletter

    Get the Barcode Bulletin delivered to your inbox

    Don't Miss Out!

    Subscribe to the iBOL Barcode Bulletin for updates on DNA barcoding efforts, the iBOL Consortium, and more.

    Also in BIOSCAN

    INSECTS DON’T TALK, BUT NEW DNA-BASED TECHNOLOGIES ARE HELPING TO TELL THEIR STORIES

    by Christina Lynggaard, Martin Nielsen, Luisa Santos-Bay, Markus Gastauer, Guilherme Oliveira and Kristine Bohmann | Oct 16, 2019 

    HOW A TROPICAL COUNTRY CAN DNA BARCODE ITSELF

    by Dan Janzen and Winnie Hallwachs | Oct 2, 2019

    comment on this article

    The Barcode Bulletin moderates comments to promote an informed and courteous conversation. Abusive, profane, self-promotional, or incoherent comments will be rejected.