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GlobalRomania completes library of butterfly barcodes

Romania is now the first country to have barcoded its entire butterfly fauna – all 180 species.

DNA barcoding aims to accelerate species identification and discovery, but performance tests have shown marked differences in identification success. As a consequence, there remains a great need for comprehensive studies which objectively test the method in groups with a solid taxonomic framework.

In a study published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, Vlad Dinca, Evgeny Zakharov, Paul Hebert and Roger Vila focus on the 180 species of butterflies in Romania, accounting for about one third of the European butterfly fauna. The country includes five eco-regions, the highest of any in the European Union, and is a good representative for temperate areas.

Morphology and DNA barcodes of more than 1,300 specimens were carefully studied and compared and the results indicate that 90 per cent of the species form barcode clusters allowing their reliable identification. The remaining cases involve nine closely related species pairs, some whose taxonomic status is controversial or that hybridize regularly.

Interestingly, DNA barcoding was found to be the most effective identification tool, outperforming external morphology, and being slightly better than male genitalia.

Romania is now the first country to have a comprehensive DNA barcode reference database for butterflies. Similar barcoding efforts based on comprehensive sampling of specific geographical regions can act as functional modules that will foster the early application of DNA barcoding while a global system is under development.

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