Applying Pollen DNA Metabarcoding to the Study of Plant-Pollinator Interactions

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Applications in Plant Sciences




DNA metabarcoding, ITS, palynology, plant-pollinator interactions, pollination networks, rbcL


© 2017 Bell et al. Published by the Botanical Society of America. • Premise of the study: To study pollination networks in a changing environment, we need accurate, high-throughput methods. Previous studies have shown that more highly resolved networks can be constructed by studying pollen loads taken from bees, relative to field observations. DNA metabarcoding potentially allows for faster and finer-scale taxonomic resolution of pollen compared to traditional approaches (e.g., light microscopy), but has not been applied to pollination networks. • Methods: We sampled pollen from 38 bee species collected in Florida from sites differing in forest management. We isolated DNA from pollen mixtures and sequenced rbcL and ITS2 gene regions from all mixtures in a single run on the Illumina MiSeq platform. We identified species from sequence data using comprehensive rbcL and ITS2 databases. • Results: We successfully built a proof-of-concept quantitative pollination network using pollen metabarcoding. • Discussion: Our work underscores that pollen metabarcoding is not quantitative but that quantitative networks can be constructed based on the number of interacting individuals. Due to the frequency of contamination and false positive reads, isolation and PCR negative controls should be used in every reaction. DNA metabarcoding has advantages in efficiency and resolution over microscopic identification of pollen, and we expect that it will have broad utility for future studies of plant-pollinator interactions.

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