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Developing Molecular Approaches to Elucidate the Ecology and Function of Orbatid Mite Communities

Photomicrograph of Nothrus borussicus
Oribatid mites are the most numerically dominant group in the organic horizons of most soils.

Oribatid mites are the most numerically dominant group in the organic horizons of most soils. They can be found in almost every kind of habitat worldwide and their adaptive potential is also shown by a great abundance and species richness. Oribatid mites consume mainly living and dead parts of plants and fungi, therefore, they strongly influence decomposition processes and participate in various ways in the structure of food webs. It is also clear that species or species groups differ in ecological requirements and respond differently to changes in environmental conditions. These attributes of oribatid mites make them an ideal model group to explore biodiversity-ecosystem function relationships and strongly support the importance of oribatid mite identification in order to utilise them as ecological indicators.

At present, most ecological studies involving mite rely upon species identification using their morphology to differentiate between taxa. This is usually very time consuming as mites can be extremely numerous, many species are difficult to distinguish and there are now very few people with the skills to be able to identify mites. A few recent studies using molecular approaches to examine soil animal diversity have included mites but due to their small size relative to many other soil animals, the proportion of mites recovered in these samples is very small. In addition, there is no reference data set of sequences from correctly identified mites.

This project aims to address these issues. The first of these problems could be overcome by using a molecular approach that specifically targets the DNA of mites, thus only mite DNA would be sequenced from environmental samples. The second problem can be addressed by creating a database of sequences that are derived from collections of mites identified by experts in mite identification.

By tackling and solving these problems, it will be possible to rapidly assess the composition of mite communities in environmental samples and greatly enhance their use and importance as ecological indicators of environmental changes.

Staff involved

Patrizia Vannucchi and Andy Taylor. Please contact Patrizia Vannucchi at the James Hutton Institute for further questions about the research programme.

Research

Areas of Interest


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The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.