Towards routine DNA metabarcoding of macroinvertebrates using bulk samples for freshwater bioassessment: Effects of debris and storage conditions on the recovery of target taxa

Susan J. Nichols, Ben J. Kefford, Catriona D. Campbell, Jonas Bylemans, Eloise Chandler, Jonathan P. Bray, Michael Shackleton, Katie L. Robinson, Melissa E. Carew, Elise M. Furlan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Macroinvertebrates are commonly sampled for bioassessment of freshwater ecosystems. However, current bioassessment protocols involve laborious sorting of the animals from the debris (sample matrix) and morphological identification, where species level identifications are often difficult. DNA metabarcoding has the potential to improve bioassessment by reducing the time taken to process samples and improve the accuracy and speed of macroinvertebrate species identification. In this study, we evaluated DNA metabarcoding of macroinvertebrate samples, which include macroinvertebrates and the debris collected in the sample nets, to test if bulk, unsorted samples can be used to assess macroinvertebrate diversity. First, we tested if the sample matrix prevented the detection of six target macroinvertebrate taxa when DNA metabarcoding. Second, we tested if sample storage influenced the detection of the same six target macroinvertebrates. We also explored different levels of replication at the sample, sub-sample, and polymerase chain reaction levels and compared the overall macroinvertebrate families detected using DNA metabarcoding to those identified morphologically. We found that the presence of the sample matrix did not interfere with or inhibit the detection of the six target macroinvertebrate taxa. Furthermore, we found that the various sample storage methods did not affect target macroinvertebrate detection. The reliability of detection of the target macroinvertebrates improved as hierarchical levels of replication were combined. We found strong overlap between the detection of overall macroinvertebrate family diversity when comparing DNA metabarcoding to morphological identification. Extracting DNA from the bulk macroinvertebrate samples that included the sample matrix and using this for DNA metabarcoding could improve bioassessment by removing the need for laborious sorting of samples. Furthermore, DNA metabarcoding detection of the six target taxa was not dependent on sample storage of up to 1 year in 95% ethanol, at room temperature or after heating. DNA metabarcoding had the advantage of identifying macroinvertebrate species, but good DNA barcode libraries are needed for widespread species identifications. Further investigation should focus on including multiple samples with different macroinvertebrate composition and densities to refine and standardise bulk sample processing protocols, and on building comprehensive DNA barcode libraries for aquatic macroinvertebrates.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)607-620
Number of pages14
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2020


Dive into the research topics of 'Towards routine DNA metabarcoding of macroinvertebrates using bulk samples for freshwater bioassessment: Effects of debris and storage conditions on the recovery of target taxa'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this