GBOL, the German Barcode of Life Initiative, funded by the BMBF, has been running successfully since 2011. A consortium of several natural history museums and institutes led by the Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig in Bonn has worked on establishing a DNA barcode reference library for animals, plants and fungi in Germany which in now used to identify species via their DNA for commercial and scientific purposes. By activating the taxonomic expertise in Germany and through a tight cooperation within the EU, even species-rich insect groups like beetles or butterflies are well represented in the database and can be reliably identified with their the DNA barcode. Also smaller groups like bees, true bugs or hover flies are represented with 90% of the species. GBOL is now permanently included in the workflows at ZFMK.

Ormyrus sp. – picture: O. Niehuis

However, in total only about half of the approximately 33.000 insect species of Germany are included in the reference library with their DNA barcodes. The two main reasons are:

Currently, there are only a few experts – or even none at all – for certain insect groups.

The groups that are most underrepresented are the Diptera (flies & midges) and the Hymenoptera (bees, wasps & ants), two of the megadiverse insect orders. In Germany, these groups are represented with about 9,500 and 9,800 species.

Until today the functional role of the megadiverse Diptera and Hymenoptera in the ecosystems is severly understudied. These insect groups make up a high amount of the biodiversity in environmental- and bulk- samples (often their numbers reach up to 70% of the spoecimens). Most of the specimens cannot be assigned to species level or belong to species that are not or not well documented: that are the so called “Dark Taxa”. The groups within Diptera and Hymenoptera that have the highest specimen and species numbers are the midges & gnats and the parasitoid wasps (i.e., species that develop on or in other insects). So far, these taxa cannot be included in biodiversity monitoring, conservation or ecology; they can be evaluated for thier role in natural and man-made ecosystems or evaluated concerning their own threats. However, facing the dramatic insect decline this is more important than ever.

This is where GBOL III: Dark Taxa starts. We aim at:

enhancing the size and quality of the German DNA barcode reference library, which is openly accessible for science, general public and economy.

studying the Dark Taxa with an integrative taxonomic approach, with a well attuned network of local partners and external experts.

training a new generation of taxonomists, with species specific expertise in former Dark Taxa as well as in latest methods of integrative taxonomy

Melittobia acasta – picture O. Niehuis