Spiderwebs can tell fascinating stories of prey and predator as a recent study published in the PLOS ONE journal suggests.
A research team with the University of Notre Dame, led by Charles Xu decided to act upon an idea that Xu fancied some time ago. Based on environmental DNA monitoring, the new study was conducted on spiderwebs collected from the Potawatomi Zoo. The spiderwebs had been the home of black widows.
For the duration of the experiment, the research team fed the black widows house crickets. As the prey was devoured and the spiders perished making way for a new generation, the research team collected DNA samples traced on the spiderwebs.
The mitochondrial DNA was observed to belong to both the spiders and the house crickets as well as any other insects that had met their death in the sticky traps. Thus, the researchers concluded, spiderwebs can tell fascinating stories of prey and predator.
Genetic material resists on the spiderwebs for long periods of time. In the case of the Potawatomi Zoo spiderwebs, the researchers could find DNA samples for well over 80 days after the black widows had died. The new technique used throughout this study lays the foundation for a new methodology to study spiders, their habitat and their prey wherever they are. Without actually capturing the spiders, the spiderwebs become the subject of analysis.
The new environmental DNA monitoring technique is non-invasive and offers researchers flexibility in collecting samples for studies and experiments. Before the advent of environmental DNA monitoring, identifying spiders could be performed uniquely through studying their morphology. Prone to errors, the technique often mislead scientists and called repeated costly studies. Now, it is hoped that by collecting DNA samples from spiderwebs alone, identification become easier and more accurate.
As spiderwebs can tell fascinating stories of prey and predator, Charles Xu hopes that the research offers a new tool to monitor and conserve species. DNA samples of the spiders and their prey can help in mapping out habitats and endangered species.
Spiderwebs, the sticky homes and death traps for many insects caught up in them are brimming with DNA samples. With the rise of metabarcoding, the researchers of the Notre Dame University hope that spiderwebs DNA analysis can rapidly become the most used environmental monitoring tool.
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