MinRes has partnered with Curtin University to fund a new ground-breaking study on plant-animal interactions.
The study offers new scientific evidence to support the use of environmental DNA (eDNA) as a tool to help survey and monitor plant-animal interactions, helping safeguard animal pollinators and endangered flora.
Published in Environmental DNA, the study is the first of its kind to use eDNA to simultaneously detect mammal, insect, and bird DNA on flowers, providing a game-changer in the face of declining animal pollinators globally.
The research team has identified five mammals, eight bird species, and 57 arthropods, including moth families that had not previously been recorded as flower visitors.
This disruptive technology is in the early stage of application in terrestrial systems, offering an opportunity to explore and monitor ecosystems at multiple levels.
MinRes Closure, Rehab & Contamination Manager, Celine Mangan, said a commitment to responsible environmental management and pioneering research drove the partnership with Curtin University.
“The application of environmental DNA has the potential to revolutionise how biological baseline assessments, rehabilitation planning, and monitoring are undertaken in the future,” Celine said.
In this study, the native flowers that attracted the greatest diversity of animal visitors were the larger, more generalist flower types, Banksia arborea, commonly known as Yilgarn dryandra, and Grevillea georgeana.
The research was carried out in the Helena and Aurora Range, also known as Bungalbin, located in the Great Western Woodlands west of Kalgoorlie in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia.
Lead author Joshua Newton, a PhD candidate in Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, said the research offered new scientific evidence to support the use of eDNA as a tool to help survey and monitor plant-animal interactions.
“We know the significant role that animal pollinators play in the reproduction of about 90% of flowering plants, but this crucial relationship is under threat as many of these species are experiencing declines across the globe,” he said.
“That means effective pollinator monitoring methods are now more important than ever before, as we search for new, fast, and accurate ways of safeguarding the future of endangered flora.”
Co-author Associate Professor Bill Bateman, also from Curtin’s School of Molecular and Life Sciences, said the metabarcoding of eDNA traces was able to detect interactions between pollinators and flowers.
“We were especially pleased to find evidence of a western pygmy possum visiting a flower because, at the time, it was the first eDNA metabarcoding-based identification of an interaction of a mammal or bird species with flowers, to our knowledge,” he said.
“This finding shows us that the eDNA metabarcoding of flowers offers a more complete set of floral visitors and may prove an effective tool for monitoring rare plant species that are growing in remote regions, receive relatively few pollinator visits, or are visited by cryptic animal species.”
The study provides better methods to monitor pollinators, which are desperately needed given their ongoing declines. The metabarcoding of eDNA traces not only allows us to detect pollinators but multiple other species, for example, pests and invasive species that interact with plants.
The disruptive technology is in the early stage of application in terrestrial systems and will offer an opportunity to explore and monitor ecosystems at multiple levels – not just what we are able to easily see, hear and identify under a microscope.
Read the full paper, titled ‘Monitoring the birds and the bees: environmental DNA metabarcoding of flowers detects plant-animal interactions’.