The potential of aquatic bloodfeeding and nonbloodfeeding leeches as a tool for iDNA characterisation

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Leeches play important roles in food webs due to their abundance, diversity and feeding habits. Studies using invertebrate-derived DNA (iDNA) extracted from leech gut contents to target vertebrate DNA have focused on the Indo-Pacific region and mainly leveraged the leech family Haemadipsidae, composed of bloodfeeding terrestrial leeches, while predatory, fluid/tissue-feeding and aquatic bloodfeeding species have been largely disregarded. While there is some general knowledge regarding the taxonomic groups that leeches prefer to feed on, detailed taxonomic resolution is missing and, therefore, their potential use for monitoring animals is unknown. In this study, 116 leeches from 12 species (six families) and spanning the three feeding habits were collected in Mexico and Canada. We used DNA metabarcoding to investigate their diet and assess their potential use for biodiversity monitoring. We detected vertebrates from five orders including fish, turtles and birds in the diet of aquatic bloodfeeding leeches; eight invertebrate orders of annelids, arthropods and molluscs in leeches that feed on body fluids and tissues; and ten orders of invertebrates belonging to Arthropoda and Annelida, as well as one vertebrate and one parasitic nematode, in predatory leeches. These results show the potential use of iDNA from aquatic bloodfeeding leeches for retrieving vertebrate taxa, and from predatory and fluid-feeding leeches for invertebrates. Our study provides information about the dietary range of freshwater leeches and one terrestrial leech and contributes proof-of-concept for the use of these leeches for animal monitoring, expanding our knowledge of the use of iDNA from leech gut contents to North America.
Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Ecology Resources
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)539-553
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2022

    Research areas

  • Diet, iDNA, Leeches, Metabarcoding

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