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Journal Article

The bug in a teacup—monitoring arthropod–plant associations with environmental DNA from dried plant material


Künzel,  Sven
Department Evolutionary Genetics, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, Max Planck Society;

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Krehenwinkel, H., Weber, S., Künzel, S., & Kennedy, S. R. (2022). The bug in a teacup—monitoring arthropod–plant associations with environmental DNA from dried plant material. Biology Letters, 18(6): 20220091. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2022.0091.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000B-23EF-1
Environmental DNA analysis (eDNA) has revolutionized the field of biomonitoring in the past years. Various sources have been shown to contain eDNA of diverse organisms, for example, water, soil, gut content and plant surfaces. Here we show that dried plant material is a highly promising source for arthropod community eDNA. We designed a metabarcoding assay to enrich diverse arthropod communities while preventing amplification of plant DNA. Using this assay, we analysed various commercially produced teas and herbs. These samples recovered ecologically and taxonomically diverse arthropod communities, a total of over a thousand species in more than 20 orders, many of them specific to their host plant and its geographical origin. Atypically for eDNA, arthropod DNA in dried plants shows very high temporal stability, opening up plant archives as a source for historical arthropod eDNA. Considering these results, dried plant material appears excellently suited as a novel tool to monitor arthropods and arthropod–plant interactions, detect agricultural pests and identify the geographical origin of imported plant material. The simplicity of our approach and the ability to detect highly diverse arthropod communities from all over the world in tea bags also highlights its utility for outreach purposes and to raise awareness about biodiversity.