Invertebrate-derived DNA for monitoring (urban) Wildlife in Berlin

The use of mosquitoes and flies (in particular the blood of animals they fed on), collected in parks in and around Berlin, offers a non-invasive way to survey wildlife occurrence and distribution in cities. The meta-barcoded sequence data from the blood ingested by the insects will also be correlated to the “collection systems” (flies vs. mosquitos) to analyse the impact the choice of the “collection system” has on the outcome.

Project details
Duration: 2017 - 2020
Third-party funded: yes
Involved Department(s): Dept Evolutionary Genetics, Dept Ecological Dynamics
Leibniz-IZW Project Leader(s):
Camila Mazzoni (Dept Evolutionary Genetics)
Leibniz-IZW Project Team:
Renita Danabalan, Philipp Clausnitzer, Jacquelyn Johnson
(all: BeGenDiv/Dept Evolutionary Genetics)
Stephanie Kramer-Schadt, Aimara Planillo (all: Dept Ecological Dynamics)
Former taem members:
Susanne Butschkau, Sita Deeg, Madlee Einsiedler
(all: BeGenDiv/Dept Evolutionary Genetics)
Pierre Gras (Dept Ecological Dynamics)
Consortium Partner(s):
Robert Koch Institute, Berlin
Museum fuer Naturkunde, Berlin
Current Funding Organisation: This study is part of the ongoing Bridging in Biodiversity of Science (BIBs) project funded by the BMBF
Research Foci:
In order to determine the existing vertebrate biodiversity at a given location, one needs to detect and to identify all vertebrate species at that location. However, most species are very elusive and difficult to detect by standard observation measures. Thus, alternative methods need to be applied. One of those methods is the indirect observation of vertebrate diversity by analyzing invertebrate-derived DNA (iDNA), coming either from haematophagous (blood feeding) insects such as mosquitos that have fed on vertebrate hosts or from flies that feed on the feces dropped by animals at that location. While (female) mosquitoes need the protein from vertebrate blood for egg development, some flies require protein from vertebrate feces or from the carcass for either the development of eggs or as attractant at a mating site.
The use of such iDNA allows us to indirectly sample the biodiversity of vertebrates in a given area without the need to know the exact location of the animals (which is needed for direct observation). Within this project we want to study the vertebrate diversity in the City of Berlin. In this preliminary phase we started to collect flies and mosquitoes at four locations throughout the city: two locations in Grunewald (South), one location at lake Müggelsee (East) and one location in the city district of Spandau (north). Once the DNA has been extracted from pools of insects, we try to amplify the DNA of the vertebrate host using vertebrate specific primers. The resulting mixture of PCR fragments is then sequenced on a next generation sequencer (Illumina), allowing us to “read” all sequences simultaneously. After sequencing the results are submitted to a database for comparison and vertebrate hosts are determined.
This project also has a Citizen Science component in which we employ non-scientist helpers to collect bloodfed mosquitos in our preselected areas.
October 12, 2019: ARTE Video; Mücken jagen für die Wissenschaft (DE/FR).