'Swab a Slug' Project Launched

25 April, 2016

One of the UK’s oldest horticultural societies plans to use DNA techniques to properly assess the diversity of slugs and snails in UK gardens.

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), which was founded in 1804 by the famous naturalist Sir Joseph Banks, has announced plans to apply a range of DNA extraction methods and barcoding techniques to assess the tools’ usefulness in slug identification.

The charity, whose aim is to to ‘inspire passion and excellence in the science, art and practice of horticulture’, says that despite the significance of slugs and snails as major horticultural pests, there have been very few studies of the diversity of slugs and snails in the UK’s gardens. Yet the pests are the most common enquiry to its Gardening Advice service.

Despite the availability of comprehensive identification guides for the numerous slug and snail species present in the UK, including native and exotic species, the RHS says identification by inexperienced recorders can often be difficult. It believes that the use of molecular tools such as DNA barcoding would open up opportunities for broader ‘citizen science’ surveys in gardens.

The project is at an early stage, but fieldwork is to include the gathering of slugs from a range of garden habitats and using morphological identification to verify species. It is hoped that this will lead to molecular work to test the identification potential of DNA extracted from their bodies, and investigate whether it is possible to identify slugs by extracting DNA from their mucus.

Scheduled to take place during the summer of 2016, the RHS intends to publish a report on completion of the project.