As blowflies and flesh flies eat on dead animals, they also imbibe a bit of those animals' DNA, which could serve as a guide to studying diversity, report researchers led by Sébastien Calvignac-Spencer from the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin.
Ed Yong writes at Nature News that the researchers had been looking to see whether the flies carried the anthrax bacterium. But, as Calvignac-Spencer tells him, they realized "that detecting mammal DNA from flies could also be an extremely cool tool for assessing biodiversity."
Calvignac-Spencer and his colleagues sequenced DNA obtained from flies captured at the Taï National Park in Côte d'Ivoire and the Kirindy Reserve in Madagascar. From the Côte d'Ivoire samples, they found DNA from 16 mammals, including six primate species and Jentink's duiker, and, from the Madagascar samples, they identified DNA from four mammal species, Yong writes.
The Molecular Ecology paper detailing this work is to appear online today.