Monitoring the birds and the bees: Environmental DNA metabarcoding of flowers detects plant–animal interactions
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Animal pollinators are vital for the reproduction of ~90% of flowering plants. However, many of these pollinating species are experiencing declines globally, making effective pollinator monitoring methods more important than ever before. Pollinators can leave DNA on the flowers they visit, and metabarcoding of these environmental DNA (eDNA) traces provides an opportunity to detect the presence of flower visitors. Our study, collecting flowers from seven plant species with diverse floral morphologies, for eDNA metabarcoding analysis, illustrated the value of this novel survey tool. eDNA metabarcoding using three assays, including one developed in this study to target common bush birds, recorded more animal species visiting flowers than visual surveys conducted concurrently, including birds, bees, and other species. We also recorded the presence of a flower visit from a western pygmy possum; to our knowledge this is the first eDNA metabarcoding study to simultaneously identify the interaction of insect, mammal, and bird species with flowers. The highest diversity of taxa was detected on large inflorescence flower types found on Banksia arborea and Grevillea georgeana. The study demonstrates that the ease of sample collection and the robustness of the metabarcoding methodology has profound implications for future management of biodiversity, allowing us to monitor both plants and their attendant cohort of potential pollinators. This opens avenues for rapid and efficient comparison of biodiversity and ecosystem health between different sites and may provide insights into surrogate pollinators in the event of pollinator declines.
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