Putting a Price Tag – and a Barcode – On Species Conservation

Candace Piper
2 October 2012

Conserving the planet’s plant and animal species is a big job, to say the least. With about two million species already identified and more being discovered, trying to keep track of them all can seem overwhelming.

Did You Know? Close to 2 million species have already been described, but scientists believe there are likely upwards of 13 million different species living on the planet. In order to protect a species, information is needed on where it lives, what it eats, and what else it needs to survive. Some species aren’t easily identified or tracked, meaning that this information can be hard – and expensive – to get. DNA barcoding is one tool with the potential to make the work of conservation scientists both easier and less expensive.

Not only are species sometimes hard to find, they can also be hard to identify. That’s because visual cues, like feather colour or leaf shape, are not always enough to distinguish one species from another. However, it is important to be able to distinguish between species, even if they look alike, because they may require different strategies to be properly protected.

DNA barcoding may be able help with these problems. It is a method of species identification that involves sequencing a part of the genetic code and then creating a unique “barcode” for each individual species.

Did You Know? Paul Hebert, a Canadian researcher, was the first person to propose using DNA barcoding as a tool for species identification.With DNA barcoding, elusive animals could be tracked by analyzing their droppings or, in the case of rare fish, the water they live in. It could also help determine the species of insect eggs and larvae, which would otherwise be extremely difficult to identify. In the case of bacteria and fungi, DNA barcoding might just be the only effective way of identifying millions of species that live in the soil and water. And since bacteria and fungi can be important indicators of ecological health, knowing what species are present provides conservation scientists with vital information.

DNA barcoding might also be a more effective way of identifying biological “hotspots” (areas with particularly high levels of biodiversity) than traditional wildlife surveys. Especially when funding for habitat protection is tight, it could provide conservationists with better results for fewer dollars.

Did You Know? The gene region used for DNA barcoding in animals is called the mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase 1 gene (“CO1”). For plants, the regions matK and rbcL are used.There is some debate about what impact DNA barcoding will ultimately have on conservation, and only time will tell. However, by reducing the cost of wildlife surveys and improving the success of conservation projects, it has the potential to become an important addition to the conservation researcher’s toolbox.

Learn More!

What is DNA Barcoding? (International Barcode of Life)

http://www.ibol.org/about-us/what-is-dna-barcoding/ About Biodiversity (Convention on Biological Diversity)

http://www.cbd.int/2010/biodiversity/ Conservation and DNA Barcoding (San Diego Zoo)

http://www.sandiegozooglobal.org/what_we_do_banking_genetic_resources/frozen_zoo/conservation_and_dna_barcoding/ Does conservation biology need DNA barcoding? (ConservationBytes)

http://conservationbytes.com/2012/01/05/does-conservation-biology-need-dna-barcoding/ Barcode of Life

http://www.barcodeoflife.org/ How DNA Barcoding Can Help Science (Science Daily)

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070914120856.htm Lepidoptera Code of Life (Moths and Butterflies)


Other References

Ardura, A., A.R. Linde,, J.C. Moreira, and E. Garcia-Vazquez. 2010. DNA barcoding for conservation and management of Amazonian commercial fish. Biol. Conserv. 143(6) 1438-1443. Radulovici, A. E., P. Archambault, and F. Dufresne. 2010. DNA Barcodes for Marine Biodiversity: Moving Fast Forward? Diversity. 2(4) 450-472. http://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/2/4/450/pdf

Candace Piper

I am a Masters student at the University of Saskatchewan. For my research, I am studying how an invasive species interacts with other plants in the community, the microbes that live in the soil, and how this might affect soil nitrogen cycling. I grew up in Saskatchewan, and so grassland ecosystems are close to my heart. In my spare time (if there is any), I like to knit, do crafts, and play sports, such as volleyball and ultimate frisbee. 

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