Environmental DNA from archived leaves reveals widespread temporal turnover and biotic homogenization in forest arthropod communities

2022, Fachzeitschriften

Krehenwinkel, Henrik; Weber, Sven; Broekmann, Rieke; Melcher, Anja; Hans, Julian; Wolf, Rüdiger; Hochkirch, Axel; Kennedy, Susan Rachel; Koschorreck, Jan; Künzel, Sven; Müller, Christoph; Retzlaff, Rebecca; Teubner, Diana; Schanzer, Sonja; Klein, Roland; Paulus, Martin; Udelhoven, Thomas; Veith, Michael
eLife, 11 (2022), e78521, online 10. November 2022


A major limitation of current reports on insect declines is the lack of standardized, long-term, and taxonomically broad time series. 

Here, we demonstrate the utility of environmental DNA from archived leaf material to characterize plant-associated arthropod communities. We base our work on several multi-decadal leaf time series from tree canopies in four land use types, which were sampled as part of a long-term environmental monitoring program across Germany. Using these highly standardized and well-preserved samples, we analyze temporal changes in communities of several thousand arthropod species belonging to 23 orders using metabarcoding and quantitative PCR.

Our data do not support widespread declines of α-diversity or genetic variation within sites. Instead, we find a gradual community turnover, which results in temporal and spatial biotic homogenization, across all land use types and all arthropod orders. Our results suggest that insect decline is more complex than mere α-diversity loss, but can be driven by β-diversity decay across space and time.

doi: 10.7554/eLife.78521