Metabarcoding of canopy arthropods reveals negative impacts of forestry insecticides on community structure across multiple taxa

Research output: Contribution to journalResearch articleContributedpeer-review


  • Benjamin M. L. Leroy - , Technical University of Munich (Author)
  • Sebastian Seibold - , Technical University of Munich (Author)
  • Jerome Moriniere - , AIM - Advanced Identification Methods GmbH (Author)
  • Vedran Bozicevic - , AIM - Advanced Identification Methods GmbH (Author)
  • Jessica Jaworek - , Technical University of Munich (Author)
  • Nicolas Roth - , University of Würzburg, ETH Zurich (Author)
  • Sebastian Vogel - , University of Würzburg (Author)
  • Sharon Zytynska - , Liverpool John Moores University, Technical University of Munich (Author)
  • Ralf Petercord - , Bavarian State Institute of Forestry (Author)
  • Peter Eichel - , Bavarian State Institute of Forestry (Author)
  • Wolfgang W. Weisser - , Technical University of Munich (Author)


Insecticides used to combat outbreaks of forest defoliators can adversely affect non-target arthropods. Forestry insecticides typically suppress Lepidoptera larvae which are the cornerstone of the canopy community of deciduous oak forests. The abrupt removal of this dominant component of the food web could have far-reaching implications for forest ecosystems, yet it is rarely investigated in practice owing to several methodological shortcomings. The taxonomic impediment and the biased nature of arthropod sampling techniques particularly impede the assessment of insecticide impacts on diverse communities. To tackle this issue, we propose an experimental approach combining sampling by pyrethrum knockdown and species determination via DNA metabarcoding, using community subsampling to derive estimates of species abundances. We applied this protocol to investigate the short-term effects of the insecticides diflubenzuron (DFB) and Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki (BTK) on canopy-dwelling arthropod communities in German oak woodlands. Our approach allowed us to detect most of the diversity and integrate species abundances in our analyses. By classifying arthropod species into assemblages based on their expected sensitivity rather than coarse taxonomic groupings, we could unveil substantial effects of DFB across multiple taxa 5 weeks after application. Although strong effects on single species appear related to direct toxicity, substantial impacts of DFB on parasitoids and xylophagous beetles suggest that anti-defoliator treatments can have previously unsuspected indirect effects on some components of forest arthropod communities. The impacts of BTK on community structure were consistent with that of DFB though much weaker. Synthesis and applications. Comparing diversity patterns in the arthropod communities of sprayed and unsprayed oak canopies, our results show that selective insecticides can alter species diversity in presumably non-sensitive taxa. Even though the ecological significance of these impacts has yet to be assessed in an operational setting, their existence calls for increased regulatory scrutiny on indirect effects. As community approaches become more attainable with the rapid development of DNA metabarcoding, we suggest the inclusion of community-level end points as regulatory requirements for the approval of forest-use insecticides.


Original languageGerman
Pages (from-to)997-1012
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Applied Ecology
Issue number4
Early online dateJan 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes

External IDs

Scopus 85123882433
ORCID /0000-0002-7968-4489/work/149439493



  • Bacillus thuringiensis, DNA barcoding, Canopy arthropods, Community analysis, Diflubenzuron, Diversity patterns, Indirect effects, Taxonomic impediment