Species can also be identified at any life stage
be it eggs, seeds, larvae, or flowers. Also, theunambiguous nature of DNA barcodes contrasts attractively against the descriptive and oftentimessubjective gradations of morphology-based taxonomy, and barcoding-based species identification
by the fact that most extant species aren’t well characterized morphologically.
Finally,previously-perplexing taxonomic puzzles, such as those brought up by phenotypic convergence and
, become more manageable with the use of barcoding.Practical applications of barcoding include roles in pinpointing of disease vectors, improvingmanagement and conservation of natural resources, and permitting more informed regulation of theillegal exploitation of organisms (as in the lamentable situation with bushmeat-hunting in Africa).Barcoding also
doesn’t rely on the expertise of a quickly
-dwindling supply of highly-experiencedtaxonomists. Barcoding a specimen is minimally costly, costing $2-5 for most labs and requiring a fewhours at most. Non-specialist researchers can rapidly sequence their sample, consult a barcodedatabase, and identify their organism.
Main merits and concerns
Just how effective are DNA barcodes methods at matching unknown organisms to described taxa? Moreinterestingly, are DNA barcodes capable of distinguishing between closely-related sister species? Theanswer is an unsatisfying equivocation: it depends. Although all barcodes are sufficiently discriminativeto distinguish taxa at the genus level
2003), species identifications
always sostraightforward.Consider a success first: Hebert
study of COI sequences in 260 species of NorthAmerican birds (2004a). The study sought to find out how closely the species boundaries that barcodespredicted dovetailed with the preexisting (robust and well-resolved) taxonomic categorization.Barcoding proved to be a fruitful approach: each of the 260 species was found to have a different COIsequence, and COI sequence differences between closely related bird species were found to be 19-24times higher than the differences found within species. On the basis of these strongly supportiveresults, Hebert
of ten times the mean intraspecific variation for thegroup studied as the cut-off point that could be used to provisionally identify species.Compare this with another major study attempted to delimit cryptic butterfly species from theneotropics (Hebert
, 2004b). The study concluded that 10 different species were present in the