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Projects / Programmes source: ARIS

Spider webs as a source of environmental DNA

Research activity

Code Science Field Subfield
1.03.01  Natural sciences and mathematics  Biology  Zoology and zoophysiology 

Code Science Field
B005  Biomedical sciences  Zoology 

Code Science Field
1.06  Natural Sciences  Biological sciences 
Keywords
Environmental DNA, DNA barcoding, metabarcoding, next generation sequencing, development of scientific metods, spider webs
Evaluation (rules)
source: COBISS
Researchers (1)
no. Code Name and surname Research area Role Period No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  32208  PhD Matjaž Gregorič  Biology  Head  2017 - 2019  355 
Organisations (1)
no. Code Research organisation City Registration number No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  0618  Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts  Ljubljana  5105498000  63,134 
Abstract
The application of biological data to relevant societal problems is largely limited to correct specimen identification. Traditional species monitoring and specimen identification relies on morphological and behavioral character identification, but these methods have several well-known shortcomings, e.g. labor intensiveness, rare taxonomic expertise, problematic diagnosis, invasive sampling, etc. Consequently, traditional approaches are often inadequate and cannot provide effort needed for environmental monitoring related to modern challenges, such as the rapid decline of biodiversity, climate change, and invasive species.   Novel molecular approaches such as sampling of environmental DNA (eDNA), i.e. obtaining genetic material directly from environmental samples in the absence of biological source material, can potentially overcome many limitations of traditional biodiversity monitoring. Several tissues from live or dead organisms represent potential sources of eDNA, e.g. urine, feces, integument, and extracellular DNA. Environmental DNA is present in all media, e.g. soil, sediment, water and permafrost, and depending on the medium, the preservation of eDNA varies from a few weeks to hundreds of thousands of years. Also, eDNA can be amplified either using specific primers within a single-species approach, or using generic primers in a multiple-species approach (i.e. DNA metabarcoding). Accordingly, eDNA is increasingly used to address fundamental questions in basic and applied research fields, such as ecology, molecular biology, nature conservation, and paleontology. In this context, I here propose to investigate the potential use of spider webs as a source of eDNA.   Spiders are enormously diverse and abundant, are dominant predators of arthropods, their webs are highly diverse in architecture, size and microhabitat, and they target a wide range of prey. In two recent studies, spider webs have been found to contain traces of spider and prey DNA. In this context, genetic material obtained from spider webs might represent a novel, non-invasive tool for identification of organisms, but remains almost unstudied. Because spider webs are abundant and can be easily collected, traces of eDNA on webs potentially represent an alternative to more traditional sampling methods. Furthermore, web eDNA may provide a new method of studying the interactions between spiders and their prey. Applied more broadly, eDNA from spider webs might provide a unique opportunity to address a variety of questions related to the study of arthropod communities in general, without the need to actually collect them. In addition to containing animal eDNA, spider webs might also contain other genetic material. For example, spider webs are known to passively collect pollen and fungal spores.   When using eDNA for inferences of the proximity of organisms relative to the traces of their DNA, it is crucial to also consider the spatial and temporal scales of eDNA. In this context, spider webs potentially represent a novel and powerful source of eDNA: they accumulate DNA from the air column, an underexplored eDNA source, and compared to sediment or water likely contain more detailed spatial and temporal information about the accumulated genetic material. In the proposed project, I aim to test whether different web types are suitable for obtaining eDNA, how DNA degrading factors, specifically UV light, heat and humidity affect eDNA detection success, and investigate whether specific web types are better at accumulating eDNA of specific organism groups, i.e. arthropods, fungi and plants. I expect the proposed research to provide the first platform for future research of web derived eDNA, with numerous potential uses, from fields like biodiversity monitoring, animal diet assessment, invasive species, climate change, to studies of arthropod, plant, and fungal communities, as well as testing web eDNA in a metabarcoding context.
Significance for science
To date, only two laboratory controlled case studies tested whether spider and prey DNA can be extracted from webs and applied in species identification. The here proposed research will evaluate some of the potential applications of this novel method by testing the use of web eDNA in the field and across diverse spider groups. I expect that spider webs from nature will prove useful for obtaining eDNA, and I further expect to find that sheet and cob webs will be more suitable for collecting arthropod eDNA compared to orb webs that will be better at accumulating plant pollen and fungal spores. Furthermore, I expect to obtain useful data on how different DNA degrading factors contribute to degradation of DNA on spider webs. Last but not least, I will conduct a metabarcoding experiment that will pioneer multi-species approaches for eDNA obtained from spider webs. Thus, the proposed research will provide the first platform for future research connected to web derived eDNA, with numerous potential uses, from applying my findings in fields like biodiversity monitoring, animal diet assessment, invasive species, climate change, to studies of arthropod, plant, and fungal communities, as well as testing web eDNA in a metabarcoding context. As such, the proposed research is of broad scientific interest.
Significance for the country
DNA barcoding from eDNA, either via single- or multiple-species approach, is a rapidly developing tool for tackling several societal challenges. Among the wide range of DNA (meta)barcoding applications, the use of web derived eDNA can directly lead to new ways of tackling important environmental (biodiversity) challenges, e.g. biodiversity monitoring through species-level identification and population genetics, animal diet assessment, monitoring of invasive, cryptic, endangered or presumably extinct species, several topics related to climate change, the role of humans in population fluctuations etc. Spider webs accumulate DNA from the air column, an underexplored eDNA medium, and might contain more detailed spatial and temporal information about the accumulated genetic material compared to other sources like soil and water. In this context, spider webs might represent a novel, unique and potentially very powerful tool for accessing contemporary genetic material of a variety of organisms, from arthropods, plants and fungi, to maybe even bacteria. Thus, this project will not only lead to new ways of tackling environmental problems, but also lie the foundations for potential economic uses of the method.
Most important scientific results Final report
Most important socioeconomically and culturally relevant results Final report
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