DNA Metabarcoding supports Europe-wide biodiversity study in beech forests

Much of Europe is covered by beech forests (dominated by beech trees - Fagus sylvatica). These forests provide a livelihood for many species, including thousands of arthropods. Mushrooms are an important component of functioning forests and are the most important organisms for wood decomposition. The fruit bodies and mycelia of fungi are an important source of food for many insects and other arthropods. Additionally, the fruit bodies serve numerous organisms as habitat. The tinder fungus (Formes formentarius) is one of the main decomposers of wood in beech forests in Europe. Both its fruit body, as well as the resulting deadwood provide shelter and food for many arthropods. Through deforestation and management measures, however, the fungus is threatened in many areas or even extinct locally. Therefore, the tinder fungus and the associated diversity of arthropods have been investigated in a recent study by Friess et al. (2018).

In this study, the total biodiversity within the fungal bodies was investigated. Beetles were determined using classical methods by specialists (taxonomists). The remaining animals were sent to AIM as mixed samples and analyzed there with the DNA metabarcoding service in just one analysis step at a time, and entire species lists were created for each sample.

In total, 216 different types of arthropods in the tinder fungi were identified in this study. Of these, 71 species of beetles were determined in the classical way by the taxonomists / specialists and 145 species of arthropods by the DNA metabarcoding service of AIM. The study also analyzed the level of the food chain in which the animals are to be arranged, since in a healthy system mostly representatives from all levels are present. The holistic and integrative analysis of samples using classical methods and DNA metabarcoding identified 131 consumers, 68 predators and 17 parasitic species.

A few of the Operational Taxonomic Units (OTUs) generated by DNA Metabarcoding could not be linked to any of the species already described. Most of these OTUs belong to the gall midges family (Cecidomyiidae). However, as there are too few specialists who are familiar with these species, because the specialists are also something of a dying species and we are in a so-called taxonomic crisis/impediment, these species have not yet been recorded digitally in the "Catalog of Life" , If these species are cataloged in the future, a clear assignment to a species will be possible in the future. The data from DNA metabarcoding projects will become more and more valuable with the years and growing data sets and digital libraries.

This Europe-wide study has identified tinder fungus as an important host for a large number of beech forest animals. For the European beech forests, therefore, the retention of trees with tinder fungi and the promotion of reintroduction of the fungus where it has declined is a promising conservation strategy. These recommendations can be used to actively promote and protect native species and farm animals. Thus, a targeted contribution to the preservation of domestic biodiversity can be made.

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