Assessing Pollinator Communities via Environmental DNA (eDNA) Metacommunity Assay

Dr. Mark Davis | University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign



The project aims to advance the science of environmental DNA (eDNA) through development and demonstration of an innovative approach (i.e., metabarcoding) for measuring and monitoring pollinator communities on native and invasive plant species. Successful proof-of-concept of these methods can provide managers with a valuable tool to rapidly assess pollinator communities and document temporal changes in pollinator community structure following management actions.

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Technical Approach

Molecular (DNA) barcoding is a method that uses a short genetic marker in an organism’s genome to identify it as belonging to a particular species. We will use a short barcode from the cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI, known as “the barcoding gene”) region of the mitochondrial genome to develop a broad-spectrum assay to screen for pollinators via eDNA. The project will validate the assay using both in-silico and in-vitro methods. The team will compare methods (e.g., swabbing, nectar extraction, whole-flower extraction) for sampling pollinator eDNA and will assess the efficacy of the optimized eDNA sampling approach, the broad-spectrum assay, and next generation sequencing (NGS) to identify a mixed pollinator community in a controlled laboratory setting.

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The Department of Defense (DoD) manages vast expanses of habitat throughout the United States and its territories and is tasked with developing and executing military training essential to mission readiness. Yet these core functions can come into conflict with protected species, creating particular challenges for land managers tasked with balancing the installations’ operational needs with measuring and monitoring imperiled species’ abundance and distribution. Further, as pollinator declines continue, these challenges may only escalate, requiring increased understanding for measuring, monitoring, and managing pollinator biodiversity. As a result, the ability to rapidly and comprehensively assess pollinator communities with a standardized tool is imperative for understanding spatiotemporal trends in pollinator communities. This work will yield a validated general method for rapidly assaying pollinator communities with an emphasis on rare, threatened, or endangered (RTE) pollinators and an execution plan for validation on DoD Installations throughout the United States.

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Points of Contact

Principal Investigator

Dr. Mark Davis

University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

Phone: 217-300-0980

Program Manager

Resource Conservation and Resiliency