This limitation extends to student-led projects that make use of DNA barcoding to determine the identity of plants or animals found in local ecosystems or in various food products. For these projects, species identifications are necessarily limited by the extent to which a given animal or plant group (taxon) is represented in the BOLD reference barcode library. Accordingly, if a DNA barcode generated from an unknown plant or animal specimen is used as a search string in the BOLD identification engine, a species name can only be assigned if the BOLD database contains a sufficient number of reference DNA barcode records for the plant or animal specimen under question.
By parameterizing a reference DNA barcode library for a targeted list of marine fish and invertebrate species, students participating in the Barcoding Life’s Matrix program have assembled the key tools needed for their successors to pursue novel and advanced research projects aimed at understanding important aspects of kelp forest ecology. In addition to significantly expanding the number of marine taxa represented in the BOLD reference barcode library, students in the Barcoding Life’s Matrix program are now using DNA barcoding to explore the following topics:
- The identity of fish eggs/larvae found in bulk environmental samples of ichthyoplankton (for studies of larval settlement/recruitment dynamics around the Channel Islands Marine Protected Areas)
- Cryptic speciation in rockfishes of the genus Sebastes and mechanisms of reproductive isolation
- Detailed kelp forest ecosystem food web studies using fish gut content analyses
- Host-parasite interactions and the breadth of fish host specificity of different parasites (for analyses of co-evolution)