A schematic of genomic methods as applied to document plant-pollinator interactions. The development of high-throughput sequencing platforms for genome analysis coupled with the establishment of public databases of standardized marker regions for the express purpose of taxonomic identification (for example, BOLDSYSTEMS  and the National Center for Biotechnology Information ) has enabled the development of a branch of ecological genomics devoted to documentation of species interactions. An unobserved flower visitation event can be conclusively demonstrated by sequencing plant markers from the mixed pollen sample carried by the pollinator (either in the gut or on the animal). The resulting markers can be compared with public or private collections of taxonomically validated references for species-level documentation of the ecological event. This enables large-scale measurements of species' interactions to be largely automated. The resulting databases can be used to quantitatively measure a variety of ecologically and evolutionarily important events, such as the relative specialization or generalization of specific plant-animal pairs, the selection pressure of one group of species on another, the economic impact of a particular ecosystem service (for example, pollination of a particular crop of interest) or the response of an ecological system to disruption. Photographs reproduced with permission of EL Clare, MB Fenton (bee on flower) and J Nagel (bat with pollen on its fur).
Clare et al. Genome Biology 2013 14:207 doi:10.1186/gb-2013-14-6-207