DNA barcoding of Austrian butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera)
With more than 4000 species, butterflies and moths belong to the mega-diverse animal groups of Austria. Only 209 species belong to the butterflies and only about 15% are diurnal, leaving a big majority of nocturnal moths. The group is found in almost all kinds of habitats, ranging from different forest types to grassland. All species share a complicated life cycle with 4 different stages – egg, caterpillar, pupa, and butterfly. In the larva stage, most species are strongly specialized to few or even only a single plant species. However, even predatory species in ant nests are known. The adults either take no food or suck nectar from different flowering plants, mineral substances from the ground or rarely feed on pollen. Hence, adult Lepidoptera are among the most important pollinators whereas caterpillars are important decomposers. All stages offer an important food source for countless other animals like insectivorous birds, amphibians, and reptiles as well as bats.
The connection to particular host-plants and habitats adds substantially to the endangerment of many butterflies, which are at the same time perfect bioindicators. Hence, butterflies are frequently considered in nature conservation. In spite of this importance and long research of tradition faunistic the taxonomic state of the art is incomplete, last but not least because of the high diversity. Every year new species are described and the early stages of numerous species are unknown even to experts. DNA barcodes from different regions of the world will enable a rapid recognition of new species. This is of particular interest for different regions of Austria, as the complex glacial history makes overlooked species likely, which can be identified with DNA-barcoding.
The ABOL pilot project “Butterflies and moths” aimed to support the efforts of the Tyrolean State Museums to create barcodes for 85% of the Austrian butterfly and moths species. In the course of the project, 3041 COI sequences of 1676 species from 65 families could be created. The extremely high sequencing success of 96.8%, which is due to the use of mainly recently collected samples, should be emphasized. A main focus was on the Noctuoids, where 727 barcodes of 450 of the 685 species occurring in Austria could be generated. Together with data from other projects, more than 10,000 sequences of nearly 2800 species, including 200 of the 209 butterfly species, were available on BOLD at the end of the pilot project. In the course of the project, Elachista deriventa (found in Brandenbergtal, Tyrol) could be detected for the first time for Austria and Central Europe, which could be assigned to topotypical specimens from Finland. Also the detection of Chrysoclista abchasica, Xestia viridescens and Perizoma juraolaria are new finds for Austria. In addition, there are numerous first records of species for certain provinces, for example about 41 new species from North Tyrol. The sequences obtained were also used to distinguish new taxa from other areas of the Alpine region, which shows the importance of national data sets for the international scientific community.
The barcoding of Austria’s butterflies and moths will be continued in various projects at the Tyrolean State Museums and is expected to result in further first-time species records for Austria.
Dr. Peter Huemer
Dr. Christian Wieser
Benjamin Wiesmair, MA
Mag. Peter Buchner
Project status: completed