Using DNA metabarcoding to quantify plant-pollinator interactions

Are current DNA-based methods accurate?

Interaction networks reconstructed from DNA metabarcoding show pollinator species are more generalist than expected from field-based observations. These previously unobserved interactions may play an important role in plant reproduction, but this has not yet been validated.

Our research group is interested in realising the potential of these new methods, while ensuring they are not producing misleading results. We aim to compare plant-pollinator interaction networks derived from DNA metabarcoding with those derived from field-based observations at the same time and in the same location. We also aim to investigate whether these newly discovered interactions are important for pollination success, and whether plant-pollinator interaction networks reconstructed from pollen DNA metabarcoding represent the true pollination network.

As part of this project you will:

  • conduct fieldwork to collect insects and their pollen loads for further analysis, as well as record observations of pollinators visiting plants
  • analyse pollen samples in the laboratory by DNA metabarcoding to identify plant species
  • conduct laboratory and glasshouse experiments manipulating plant-pollinator interactions to test the accuracy of pollen DNA metabarcoding

Supervisory team:

  • Principal supervisor: Dr Karen Bell
  • Coordinating supervisor: Professor Raphael Didham
  • Co-supervisor: Dr Bruce Webber

Find out more about the team, on the CSIRO Ecosystem Change Ecology website.

For more background information about this project, see the suggested readings below.

Suggested readings


Compare plant-pollinator interactions detected by DNA metabarcoding with those detected through field-based observations

Determine whether interactions only detected by DNA metabarcoding result in pollination success

Determine how well networks reconstructed from pollen DNA metabarcoding represent true pollination networks

Research team leader: Dr Karen Bell

I am a molecular ecologist with research interests in invasion biology, community ecology and plant-insect interactions. I have recently developed new methods for the identification of pollen using DNA metabarcoding. My research aims to apply these methods to improved understanding of plant-pollinator interactions. I am interested in the impact of pollinators, landscape and evolutionary history on plant population viability.

How to apply

Interested in becoming part of this project? Complete the following steps to submit your expression of interest:

Step 1 - Check criteria

General UWA PhD entrance requirements can be found on the Future Students website.

Requirements specific to this project:
  • ability and willingness to conduct field work in rural areas;
  • familiarity with basic molecular biology protocols, including DNA isolation and PCR; and,
  • experience with high-throughput sequencing is desirable

Step 2 - Submit enquiry to research team leader

Step 3 - Lodge application

After you have discussed your project with the research team leader, you should be in a position to proceed to the next step of the UWA application process: Lodge an application. Different application procedures apply to domestic and international students.


Domestic students

All domestic students may apply for Research Training Program and University Postgraduate Awards (UPA) scholarships

International students

A range of scholarships are available from international organisations and governments. The full list, organised by country, is available on the Future Students website.

In addition, all international students may apply for International Research Training Program scholarships.

Indigenous students
Indigenous students are encouraged to apply for Indigenous Postgraduate Research Supplementary Scholarships.
Forrest Foundation scholarships
All international and Australian students who wish to study towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) at The University of Western Australia may apply for Forrest Scholarships.

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