DNA library of apoid wasps published

DNA library of apoid wasps published

Munich, 14 January 2019

Another great success for the Zoologische Staatssammlung München: 661 species of digger wasps, closely related to the bees, were genetically investigated through DNA barcoding. Together with colleagues from the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Canada, ZSM scientists have published the results of an international project to create a genetic library of the so-called apoid wasps (Hymenoptera: Ampulicidae, Crabronidae, Sphecidae), also known as digger wasps, Spheciformes or “sphecids”. The article was published in the prestigious journal Molecular Ecology Resources.

Bembix wasps. Photo: Huw Roberts

Of the 661 examined wasp species 578 species occur in Europe, and 240 of them occur also in Germany. With the current DNA barcoding study, almost 90% of German digger wasps now have DNA barcodes. “This is the world’s first comprehensive genetic catalogue of this group of animals. They are closely related to the wild bees and are of great importance in the natural environment as natural antagonists of pest insects” explains Christian Schmid-Egger, first author of the digger wasp study. “Many digger wasps feed their larvae with aphids, bugs or other harmful organisms,” says the researcher. DNA barcode releases on other wasp groups will follow and shortly it will be possible to identify all bees and wasps in Germany by their DNA barcode.

Almost 4,000 specimens were evaluated by the scientists for the study. “Through such studies of the more prominent representatives of the local fauna we also capturing the many inconspicuous, little-known species for the first time, and discover and characterise thousands of new species in Germany,” says Dr. Stefan Schmidt, project manager and responsible for the Hymenoptera in the DNA barcoding project of the ZSM.

The DNA sequencing took place within the projects “Barcoding Fauna Bavarica” ​​and “German Barcode of Life”. In these projects, the researchers from Munich identify genetic characteristics of all Bavarian or German animal species and make them freely available to experts and the public in an online library. The project is part of the “International Barcode of Life” project based in Canada. It has the ambitious goal of genetically detecting all animal species worldwide.

So far, the Munich researchers have generated barcode sequences of about 50,000 animal species worldwide. The Zoologische Staatssammlung München has contributed around a quarter of a million samples to the international project, making it a leader in Europe. In the Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and ants), the ZSM is even far ahead in the world. “So far, we have been able to obtain barcodes of about half of the German Hymenoptera”, explains Stefan Schmidt, adding: “Being able to determine species quickly and reliably using DNA barcodes will be of crucial importance for future research projects that aim to shed light on the causes for the general decline of insects. ”

The Zoologische Staatssammlung München houses more than 22 million zoological objects and, as part of the Bavarian Natural History Collections, is among the world’s largest natural history collections. The ZSM’s DNA barcoding projects receive financial support from the Bavarian State Ministry for Science and the Arts and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.


Schmid‐Egger C, Straka J, Ljubomirov T, Blagoev GA, Morinière J, Schmidt S. DNA barcodes identify 99 per cent of apoid wasp species (Hymenoptera: Ampulicidae, Crabronidae, Sphecidae) from the Western PalearcticMol Ecol Resour2018;00:1–9. doi: 10.1111/1755-0998.12963


The apoid wasps have traditionally been regarded as a paraphyletic assemblage of four families (Ampulicidae, Crabronidae, Heterogynaidae and Sphecidae) that are closely related to the bees (Anthophila). The present study covers the three families of apoid wasps known to occur in Europe, that is, the Ampulicidae, Crabronidae and Sphecidae. DNA barcode sequences of 3,695 specimens of apoid wasps were analysed for the present study, including 21 specimens of Ampulicidae, 3,398 Crabronidae and 276 Sphecidae. The sequences of the dataset represent 661 species of apoid wasps, including two species of Ampulicidae, 613 of Crabronidae and 46 species of Sphecidae. The dataset includes DNA barcodes of 240 species of German apoid wasps, representing 88% of the German fauna, and 578 European species, representing 65% of the European apoid wasp fauna. The study demonstrates that virtually all species of the three examined families can be reliably identified by DNA barcodes. The implications of highly congruent results between traditional taxonomy and DNA barcoding for the reliable application of DNA‐based identifications are discussed.