Published on Mon Jul 12 2021

Are marine biodiversity hotspots still blackspots for barcoding?

Mugnai, F., Meglecz, E., CoMBoMed group, , Costantini, F.

Molecular tools, like DNA barcoding and metabarcoding, hold great potential for biodiversity monitoring, possibly outperforming more traditional taxonomic methods. Marine biodiversity underpins ecosystem health and societal well-being. Preservation of biodiversity hotspots is a global challenge.

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Abstract

Marine biodiversity underpins ecosystem health and societal well-being. Preservation of biodiversity hotspots is a global challenge. Molecular tools, like DNA barcoding and metabarcoding, hold great potential for biodiversity monitoring, possibly outperforming more traditional taxonomic methods. However, metabarcoding-based biodiversity assessments are limited by the availability of sequences in barcoding reference databases; a lack thereof results in high percentages of unassigned sequences. In this study we (i) present the current status of known vs. barcoded marine species at a global scale based on online taxonomic and genetic databases; and (ii) compare the current status with data from ten years ago. Then we analyzed occurrence data of marine animal species from five Large Marine Ecosystems (LMEs) classified as biodiversity hotspots, to identify any consistent disparities in COI barcoding coverage between geographic regions and at phylum level. Barcoding coverage varied among LMEs (from 36.8% to 62.4% COI-barcoded species) and phyla (from 4.8% to 74.7% COI-barcoded species), with Porifera, Bryozoa and Platyhelminthes being highly underrepresented, compared to Chordata, Arthropoda and Mollusca. We demonstrate that although barcoded marine species increased from 9.5% to 14.2% since the last assessment in 2011, about 15,000 (corresponding to 7.8% increase) new species were described from 2011 to 2021. The next ten years will thus be crucial to enroll concrete collaborative measures and long term initiatives (e.g., Horizon 2030, Ocean Decade) to populate barcoding libraries for the marine realm.