Barcoding for Life?

The East London Museum recently participated in a Toyota Outreach programme aimed at barcoding genetic material from various plant and animal species. The focus of museum scientists (Kevin and Mary Cole) along with colleagues from Natal Museum (Dr. Dai Herbert and Linda Davis) was to collect specimens of snails and slugs from various localities for processing and eventual DNA sequencing in Canada. A barcode will be assigned against the various species collected and logged for future researchers. Below follows a excerpt from the official programme blog to be found at

The aim of the Toyota Enviro Outreach for 2012 is to address one of the biggest ecological challenges in Africa, and globally: the invasion and spread of alien species. Currently there is an alarming uncertainty regarding the future of the world’s richest biodiversity hotspots, given that all climate change scenarios predict an increase in species invasiveness. South Africa is currently facing one of the largest problems with invasive plant species in the world, with the Fynbos Biome being a particularly vulnerable vegetation type in South Africa. In South Africa more than 660 alien plant species have become established in natural areas and many are known to be contributing to the widespread transformation of once pristine habitats. Animal species have also established feral populations in the country and have a negative impact on native species. The most drastic impact of invasive animal species have been recorded in South African rivers, where alien fish such as carp and bass have altered habitats and successfully out-competed native fauna. Today at least 60% of South Africa’s endemic freshwater fish are threatened. Thirteen snail species have established invasive populations in South Africa. Forty of the 42 major invertebrate crop pests are not native to South Africa. This raises serious concerns about the future of our agriculture and ecosystem-related services. For example, in South Africa, invasions have reduced the value of fynbos ecosystems by over $ 11.75 billion, the total cost of lost water resources due to invasion is estimated to be about $ 3.2 billion on the Agulhas Plain alone and the net present cost of invasion by black wattles amounts to $ 1.4 billion with the cost to clear alien plant invasions around $ 60 million per year. These alarming figures of impact have led the South African Government to establish the ‘Working for Water’ programme with the specific objective of managing invasive alien plants to protect water resources and ensuring the security of water supply.

The Toyota Enviro Outreach will start on April 15th at the Klipbokkop Mountain Reserve and will run until April 27th, during which time we will visit several reserves in the western Cape region with the goal to collect specimens from a broad range of invasive and native taxa and to produce DNA barcode records for all of them. Accurate identification of invasive alien species is essential to facilitate planning of eradication, containment and management efforts. It is believed that the most cost-effective approach is to identify and manage potential invasive species before they spread. To enable this approach the specimens collected and their DNA barcodes will be available on the Barcode of Life Data Base (BOLD) and enable rapid identification of invasive species in South Africa. In the future border checks may be provided with molecular tools to identify invasive plants and animals enabling prevention of prohibited species entering South Africa.

This project, which aims to safeguard our natural wealth and reduce biodiversity loss, is part of an effort, called the International Barcode of Life (iBOL) project, the biggest biodiversity genomics initiative ever undertaken and led by a team of Canadian scientists.

About East London Museum Science

Conservation Biologist East London Museum South Africa
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