Using barcodes to identify unknown floras

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What do you do when you don’t have a taxonomist to help identify plants? This situation  is faced all too often by field survey teams in tropical forests. And that’s where DNA barcoding comes in.

DNA barcoding can help at least assess the number of species in a plot and organize a genetic framework for taxonomic investigation, according to a recent paper in PLoSOne. According to lead author Craig Costion, this study shows that plant DNA barcodes have the potential to rapidly estimate species richness in poorly-known areas, revealing a powerful new tool for rapid biodiversity assessment.

DNA barcoding got the number of species 90% right, which is probably better than most field botanists could do. Whilst the DNA barcodes fail to discriminate all species of plants in study plots in Queensland’s wet tropics, new perspectives and methods of biodiversity value and quantification may overshadow some of these shortcomings by applying barcode data in new ways.

See: Costion C, Ford A, Cross H, Crayn D, Harrington M, LoweAJ (2011) Plant DNA barcodes can accurately estimate species richness in poorly known floras. PLoS ONE 6(11): e26841. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0026841. Online Access

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