Flesh-Eating Fies Map Forest Biodiversity
The blowflies and flesh flies that settle on dead animals aren’t just feasting on the carrion — they’re sampling their DNA. Scientists in Germany have now shown that this DNA persists for long enough to be sequenced, providing a quick and cost-effective snapshot of mammal diversity in otherwise inaccessible rainforests.
Researchers stumbled on the grisly cataloguing technique while studying a form of anthrax that kills chimpanzees in Côte d’Ivoire. They started sampling flies to see whether the insects could harbor the anthrax bacterium after feasting on infected bodies, but soon realized “that detecting mammal DNA from flies could also be an extremely cool tool for assessing biodiversity”, says team leader Sébastien Calvignac-Spencer.