Pollen DNA Metabarcoding

An isect standing on the yellow centre of a white-petal flower

An understanding of the interactions between plants and their pollinators can help guide management and conservation strategies. Photo credit: Liz Milla

The reported global decline of pollinators is one of the most serious issues today relating to food security and biodiversity management. The majority of flowering plants, including several commercial crops, rely on insect pollinators for reproduction. Pollination by insects is a vital ecosystem service, valued at billions of dollars per year.

An understanding of the interactions between plants and their pollinators, particularly within fragile or threatened habitats, can help guide management and conservation strategies. However, detailed knowledge of these plant-insect interaction networks is severely lacking for many highly diverse and unique Australian ecosystems.

Our project will develop and apply ecological and genomic methods to help untangle complex plant-pollinator webs within a range of Australian habitats, from urban reserves used by local honey producers, to areas high at risk from climate change and habitat fragmentation, such as the Australian Alps. We are using new genomic technologies, particularly DNA metabarcoding of mixed pollen samples, to substantially improve the resolution and accuracy of detection of species involved in pollen transport networks. This information can help us better target the management of key species in pollinator webs, and assess the ability of plants and insects to respond to future disturbances. Additionally, by incorporating museum specimens from the Australian National Insect Collection, Australian Herbarium and other collections, we will investigate past plant-pollinator interactions, and track their changes over time.

Project Lead: Dr Liz Milla (Environomics FSP Postdoctoral Fellow)