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Merging DNA metabarcoding and ecological network analysis to understand and build resilient terrestrial ecosystems

Evans, Darren M.; Kitson, James J. N.; Lunt, David H.; Straw, Nigel A.; Pocock, Michael J. O.


Darren M. Evans

James J. N. Kitson

Nigel A. Straw

Michael J. O. Pocock


Timothée Poisot


Summary 1. Significant advances in both mathematical and molecular approaches in ecology offer unprecedented opportunities to describe and understand ecosystem functioning. Ecological networks describe interactions between species, the underlying structure of communities and the function and stability of ecosystems. They provide the ability to assess the robustness of complex ecological communities to species loss, as well as a novel way of guiding restoration. However, empirically quantifying the interactions between entire communities remains a significant challenge. 2. Concomitantly, advances in DNA sequencing technologies are resolving previously intractable questions in functional and taxonomic biodiversity and provide enormous potential to determine hitherto difficult to observe species interactions. Combining DNA metabarcoding approaches with ecological network analysis presents important new opportunities for understanding large-scale ecological and evolutionary processes, as well as providing powerful tools for building ecosystems that are resilient to environmental change. 3. We propose a novel ‘nested tagging’ metabarcoding approach for the rapid construction of large, phylogenetically structured species-interaction networks. Taking tree–insect–parasitoid ecological networks as an illustration, we show how measures of network robustness, constructed using DNA metabarcoding, can be used to determine the consequences of tree species loss within forests, and forest habitat loss within wider landscapes. By determining which species and habitats are important to network integrity, we propose new directions for forest management. 4. Merging metabarcoding with ecological network analysis provides a revolutionary opportunity to construct some of the largest, phylogenetically structured species-interaction networks to date, providing new ways to: (i) monitor biodiversity and ecosystem functioning; (ii) assess the robustness of interacting communities to species loss; and (iii) build ecosystems that are more resilient to environmental change.


Evans, D. M., Kitson, J. J. N., Lunt, D. H., Straw, N. A., & Pocock, M. J. O. (2016). Merging DNA metabarcoding and ecological network analysis to understand and build resilient terrestrial ecosystems. Functional ecology, 30(12), 1904-1916.

Acceptance Date Feb 29, 2016
Online Publication Date May 23, 2016
Publication Date Dec 1, 2016
Deposit Date May 31, 2016
Publicly Available Date May 31, 2016
Journal Functional ecology
Electronic ISSN 1365-2435
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 30
Issue 12
Pages 1904-1916
Keywords Host-parasitoid interactions, Next generation sequencing, Food-webs, Invasive species, Forestry
Public URL
Publisher URL
Additional Information Authors' accepted manuscript of article published in: Functional ecology, 2016, v.30


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