BarFrost – Reconstruction of past ecosystems by barcoding DNA preserved in permafrost (completed)
Project leader: Professor Christian Brochmann, NCB
Director, Dr Pierre Taberlet: environmental and ancient DNA analysis, bioinformatics (Laboratoire d'Ecologie Alpine, CNRS, Grenoble, France; coordinator of the EU-project ECOCHANGE)
Professor Eske Willerslev: ancient DNA analysis (Centre for Ancient Genetics, Dept. Biology, Univ. of Copenhagen)
Dr Eric Coissac: bioinformatics (Laboratoire d'Ecologie Alpine, CNRS, Grenoble, France)
Dr James Haile: ancient DNA analysis (Centre for Ancient Genetics, Dept. Biology, Univ. of Copenhagen)
Assoc. prof. Anne K. Brysting: vascular plants (CEES Centre of Excellence, Dept. Biology, Univ. of Oslo)
Professor Hans K. Stenøien: bryophytes (Museum of Natural History and Archaeology, The Norw. Univ. of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim, Norway)
Assoc. prof. Håvard Kauserud: fungi (Dept. Biology, Univ. of Oslo)
Norwegian Research Council
Description of Project:
Knowledge of past species composition, environmental stability and species’ response to climatic variation is vital for high quality projections of future climate change effects on species and ecosystems. To date, such analyses are often impeded by the lack of identifiable fossil remains. However, recent advances in ultra-high-throughput DNA sequencing technology and in species identification (‘barcoding’) tools are opening up a novel research avenue for paleoecological reconstruction.
n this project, we are using these novel approaches to analyse past arctic biodiversity from ancient DNA preserved in permafrost. With newly developed bioinformatic tools we are designing specific DNA barcoding markers that are suitable for amplification and identification of degraded DNA in environmental samples for several groups of organisms (bryophytes, fungi, insects, springtails, vertebrates). These markers are subsequently used for amplification of taxa from more than 600 permafrost soil samples collected throughout the Arctic, ranging in age from recent to several hundreds of thousands of years before present.
The state-of-the-art advancements in next-generation sequencing technology allow in depth analyses of DNA sequences, and initial results are highly promising for a variety of taxa. To enable accurate species identification from our barcoding markers we are constructing taxonomic reference databases by sequencing our markers in modern ecologically important arctic and boreal species. The new data obtained in this project, along with complementary data for vascular plants (see Ecochange project), will be used to reconstruct the biodiversity of past ecosystems. Preliminary results obtained for vascular plants suggest that the reconstructions will be considerably improved compared to traditional fossil analyses. The results can therefore have immediate bearing on central ecological issues such as past species turnover dynamics in assemblages, niche stability in time and space, and backward testing of predictive species distribution models.