Bees’ DNA ‘soup’ may shed light into species’ decline

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Published: July 6, 2015 1:40:46 PM

Scientists have found that directly looking into the extracted "soup" of bees' DNA could help conservationists understand and even reverse their decline.

Scientists have found that directly looking into the extracted “soup” of bees’ DNA could help conservationists understand and even reverse their decline.

According to the research by University of East Anglia scientists, it would allow conservationists to detect where and when bee species are being lost, and importantly, whether conservation interventions are working.

The UK’s National Pollinator Strategy plans a large-scale bee monitoring programme, which would be quicker, cheaper and more accurate.

Lead researcher Prof. Douglas Yu said that Wild bees, who play vital role in maintaining both biodiversity and food production, are threatened by habitat loss, pesticides, climate change and disease.

Developing an efficient long-term monitoring programme to better understand the causes of their decline is one of the goals of DEFRA’s National Pollinator Strategy. This will involve a massive collection of bees across the UK.

They needed more efficient identification methods to improve their understanding of bees, but since there were hundreds of wild bee species per country, it would be impossibly time-consuming to count and identify all the bees in each location – which is where the ‘soup’ came in.

Prof. Yu said that insect soup was a sensitive thermometer for the state of nature. And large-scale bee monitoring programmes would really benefit from this type of DNA sequencing. The method could easily be scaled up to track more species, like the 1000 or so total pollinating insects in the UK.

The study is published in the journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution.

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