Lab analyses

New exotic species discovered with DNA barcoding

Waardenburg Ecology has discovered a bristle worm in the North Sea Canal that is a new species for the Netherlands. This bristle worm was first recognized as a new species in early 2022 in samples taken in the autumn of 2021. The identification was carried out via DNA analysis in our DNA lab in Haren.

This species of worm belongs to the genus Leitoscoloplos and is very similar to the native species Scoloplos armiger, differing in a different type of setae on the thoracic segments. After our analyst Olaf Duijts concluded that it was a new species, he contacted a British specialist in this family of bristle worms. It soon became clear that it was indeed a species from the genus Leitoscoloplos, but the material sent did not immediately provide an identification at the species level.

Successful DNA analysis

The following year (2022), Olaf joined the sampling team of the North Sea Canal. There he secured a number of specimens by preserving them in 96% ethanol, ensuring that the DNA remained intact. A DNA analysis was successfully carried out in our DNA lab in Haren at the beginning of 2023. The DNA profile has been compared with species from an international DNA database. This has determined that the worm corresponds to the species that bears the provisional name Leitoscoloplos sp RA04. The species has recently been identified on the basis of genetic characteristics as a separate species from a previously known species group in the genus and does not yet have an official name. It is clear that this is a species that comes from the east coast of the United States (see map below).

Via ballast water in the North Sea Canal

It is obvious that the bristle worm ended up in the North Sea Canal via ballast water. To date, there are no other known sites of this species in Europe and little is known about its ecology. Because the worm does well in the North Sea Canal, where it is now widespread, it appears to be a species that feels at home in brackish water with a silty bottom. It will probably be an estuarine species.

Our molecular lab gives us the opportunity to name more species in the future based on genetic characteristics that are difficult to distinguish based on external characteristics.