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Combining DNA metabarcoding and ecological networks to inform conservation biocontrol by small vertebrate predators
Ecological Applications  (IF4.657),  Pub Date : 2021-09-16, DOI: 10.1002/eap.2457
Vanessa A. Mata, Luis P. da Silva, Joana Veríssimo, Pedro Horta, Helena Raposeira, Gary F. McCracken, Hugo Rebelo, Pedro Beja

In multifunctional landscapes, diverse communities of flying vertebrate predators provide vital services of insect pest control. In such landscapes, conservation biocontrol should benefit service-providing species to enhance the flow, stability and resilience of pest control services supporting the production of food and fiber. However, this would require identifying key service providers, which may be challenging when multiple predators interact with multiple pests. Here we provide a framework to identify the functional role of individual species to pest control in multifunctional landscapes. First, we used DNA metabarcoding to provide detailed data on pest species predation by diverse predator communities. Then, these data were fed into an extensive network analysis, in which information relevant for conservation biocontrol is gained from parameters describing network structure (e.g., modularity) and species roles in such network (e.g., centrality, specialization). We applied our framework to a Mediterranean landscape, where 19 bat species were found to feed on 132 insect pest species. Metabarcoding data revealed potentially important bats that consumed insect pest species in high frequency and/or diversity. Network analysis showed a modular structure, indicating sets of bat species that are required to regulate specific sets of insect pests. A few generalist bats had particularly important roles, either at network or module levels. Extinction simulations highlighted six bats, including species of conservation concern, which were sufficient to ensure that over three-quarters of the pest species had at least one bat predator. Combining DNA metabarcoding and ecological network analysis provides a valuable framework to identify individual species within diverse predator communities that might have a disproportionate contribution to pest control services in multifunctional landscapes. These species can be regarded as candidate targets for conservation biocontrol, although additional information is needed to evaluate their actual effectiveness in pest regulation.