Does conservation biology need DNA barcoding?

5 01 2012

In November last year I was invited to participate in a panel discussion onthe role of DNA barcoding in conservation science. The discussion took place during the 4th International Barcode of Life Conference (which I didn’t actually attend) in Adelaide, and was hosted by that media-tart-and-now-director-of-the-Royal-Institution, Dr. Paul Willis.

Paul has recently blogged about the ‘species’ concept as it relates to DNA barcoding, which I highly recommend. It also prompted me to write this post because now the video of the discussion is available online (see below).

Now, the panel was a bit of a funny set-up in a way – I was really one of the only ‘conservation biologists’ represented (Patrick O’Connor and Andy Lowe perhaps excepted), with the rest mainly made up of molecular people (Pete Hollingsworth, Bob Hanner, Karen James) – and I was told prior to the ‘debate’ that I was meant to be the contrarian (i.e., that there is no role for DNA barcoding in conservation).

Fundamentally, I don’t actually embrace the contrarian view on this one given that I see no reason why DNA barcoding can’t enhance or refine our conservation knowledge and skills. But the ‘debate’ did raise some important issues about technological advancements in the application of conservation science to real conservation.

I suppose that prior to getting stuck into the polemic I should define DNA barcoding for the uninitiated; it’s a basic technique that analyses short sequences of DNA with the sole purposes of identifying from which species they come. Imagine walking through the bush with a barcode scanner and pointing at random species you see and getting an instant identification read-out without actually knowing the species beforehand. You can see why it’s called ‘barcoding’ because it is like running products through the check-out to get instant price details. Read the rest of this entry »





More rain forest regeneration opportunities

5 10 2010

Last November I wrote about an exciting conservation research endeavour (see ‘How to restore a tropical rain forest‘)  in which I am involved called the Thiaki Rain Forest Regeneration Project taking place as we speak in the hinterland of north Queensland’s Atherton Tableland. I personally have done next to nothing on the project yet (UQ’s Margie Mayfield is leading the charge), so I can’t really update you on all the nitty-gritty of our progress. Regardless, I can say that some of the planting tests have been done, the species have been chosen and are growing happily in the nursery reading for planting in January 2011, and the baseline biodiversity assessments are well under way.

Well, prior to our Supercharge Your Science extravaganza in Cairns and Townsville a few weeks ago, I visited Penny & Noel at Thiaki for a catch up, a discussion of what’s been happening and what’s about to happen. It was a great weekend (the family came along too) with good food, wine, ticks and leeches (biodiversity in action), and I’m getting more and more excited about what this project will deliver over the coming years.

In the meantime, a couple of ‘opportunities’ have arisen; in other words – we need some good PhD students to tackle some outstanding issues with the project. Read the rest of this entry »