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 kind of habitats, ranging from different forest types to grassland. Some species live in the alpine region up to up to maximum 3500 m a.s.l., few even in aquatic habitats. 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. Furthermore mould materials or horn-rimmed substance host species and few live predatory in ant nests. The adults either take no food or the 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 habitat 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 a long research tradition faunistic and 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. Of particular interest is the genetic analysis selected groups from different regions of Austria. Due to the complex glacial history DNA-Barcoding will probably lead to the detection of overlooked species but the global database will also enable the recognition unrecognized synonyms. Finally, introduced and partly problematic kinds can be identified easily in future.
Dr. Peter Huemer
Dr. Christian Wieser
Benjamin Wiesmair, MA