Barcoding of Austrian molluscs
The (long-term) goal of the Initiative Austrian Barcode of Life is to characterize all species of animals, plants and fungi in Austria using DNA barcodes and to store the sequences together with metadata in a broadly accessible databank. In many cases this characterization enables a simple, quick and inexpensive identification of species – even if only tissue remains or developmental stages (eggs, larvae) are available. In those species whose genetic make-up is highly structured and variable, this survey raises interesting questions related to evolutionary history and biology. In some cases we can expect the discovery of new species. ABOL serves as an effective tool for numerous applications ranging from food safety to nature conservation. In the current phase (funded by the Federal Ministry of Science), one of four pilot projects will deal with the Austrian molluscs. It is coordinated by Anita Eschner and Luise Kruckenhauser from the NHM Vienna.
The high diversity of Austrian habitats between the Eastern Alps and the Panonnian plain harbours a rich number of molluscs, with records of almost 400 species. About 13% are endemics, thus can be exclusively found in Austria. The most recent Red List draws an alarming picture for Austrian molluscs: about 35% of all snail species and about 37% of all bivalves are endangered to threatened with extinction. Snails are important decomposers of organic matter and thus play a decisive role in soil formation. Many mollusc species are perfectly suited to evaluate the quality of biotops. Their specific requirements make them ideal bioindicators. Especially spring or fountain snails can be used as indicators of water quality: their presence is a sign for good quality, if numbers decline or species are absent, there are reasons for it! Some species externally can be hardly kept apart; especially juveniles often cannot be identified with confidence. DNA-Barcodes of the entire mollusc biodiversity of Austria will allow for using even such individuals as bioindicators. Experts of molluscs will nevertheless not run out of work: The additional insights acquired by DNA-Barcoding regarding species recognition and delimitation, will render new open questions to solve. As has been shown in molecular genetic studies of the “Alpine Land Snails Working Group” at the Natural History Museum in Vienna, a high degree of diversity is still hidden, even concealing undiscovered species!