Genetic techniques, especially genetic “barcoding,” provide new windows into the study of biodiversity, food webs, and ecosystem services. Genetic barcoding is the analysis of a segment of DNA that is used to identify organisms to the species level using just a small bit of tissue, even partially-digested tissue. But to do this, a reference database or “barcode library” is needed to determine which species a sample came from.
The Chesapeake Bay Barcode Initiative is a major effort to develop a barcode library of the fish and macroscopic invertebrate species of Chesapeake Bay. Our collections reach from the salty water of the bay mouth to the freshwater tidal reaches of Chesapeake tributaries. Within this range, there are over 300 species of fish and 1000 species of macro-invertebrates. To date, we have obtained genetic barcodes for two-thirds of the fish and several hundred species of invertebrates, and we are working hard to collect additional species.
Relatively few of these species are well-known, primarily due for their importance as fishery species (Striped Bass, blue crabs), habitat formers (oysters, marsh plants, seagrasses), or because they are endangered (Atlantic Sturgeon). Even in a place as well-studied as Chesapeake Bay, understanding the full range biodiversity will be a critical component of sustaining healthy and productive ecosystems. Our barcode library will support these efforts, making possible the species-level identification of partially-digested stomach contents in diet studies, of small samples like fish eggs in habitat use studies, of suspected invasive species, and many other applications.