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ITS1 versus ITS2 as DNA metabarcodes for fungi


Correspondence: Håvard Kauserud, Fax: 47 22854726; E-mail:


The nuclear ribosomal Internal Transcribed Spacer ITS region is widely used as a DNA metabarcoding marker to characterize the diversity and composition of fungal communities. In amplicon pyrosequencing studies of fungal diversity, one of the spacers ITS1 or ITS2 of the ITS region is normally used. In this methodological study we evaluate the usability of ITS1 vs. ITS2 as a DNA metabarcoding marker for fungi. We analyse three data sets: two comprising ITS1 and ITS2 sequences of known taxonomic affiliations and a third comprising ITS1 and ITS2 environmental amplicon pyrosequencing data. Clustering analyses of sequences with known taxonomy using the bioinformatics pipeline ClustEx revealed that a 97% similarity cut-off represent a reasonable threshold for estimating the number of known species in the data sets for both ITS1 and ITS2. However, no single threshold value worked well for all fungi at the same time within the curated UNITE database, and we found that the Operational Taxonomic Unit (OTU) concept is not easily translated into the level of species because many species are distributed over several clusters. Clustering analyses of the 134 692 ITS1 and ITS2 pyrosequences using a 97% similarity cut-off revealed a high similarity between the two data sets when it comes to taxonomic coverage. Although some groups are under- or unrepresented in the two data sets due to, e.g. primer mismatches, our results indicate that ITS1 and ITS2 to a large extent yield similar results when used as DNA metabarcodes for fungi.