Tracking seasonal changes in diversity of pollen allergen exposure: targeted metabarcoding of a subtropical aerobiome

B. C. Campbell, J. Al Kouba, V. Timbrell, M. J. Noor, K. Massel, E. K. Gilding, N. Angel, B. Kemish, P. Hugenholtz, I. D. Godwin, J. M. Davies*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    19 Citations (Scopus)


    The importance of grass pollen to the global burden of allergic respiratory disease is well established but exposure to subtropical and temperate pollens is difficult to discern. Current monitoring of airborne pollen relies on light microscopy, limiting identification of taxa to family level. This informs seasonal fluctuations in pollen aerobiology but restricts analysis of aerobiological composition. We aimed to test the utility of DNA metabarcoding to identify specific taxa contributing to the aerobiome of environmental air samples, using routine pollen and spore monitoring equipment, as well as assess temporal variation of Poaceae pollen across an entire season. Airborne pollen concentrations were determined by light microscopy over two pollen seasons in the subtropical city of Brisbane (27°32′S, 153°00E), Australia. Thirty daily pollen samples were subjected to high throughput sequencing of the plastid rbcL amplicon. Amplicons corresponded to plants observed in the local biogeographical region with up to 3238 different operational taxonomic units (OTU) detected. The aerobiome sequencing data frequently identified pollen to genus levels with significant quantitative differences in aerobiome diversity between the months and seasons detected. Moreover, multiple peaks of Chloridoideae and Panicoideae pollen were evident over the collection period confirming these grasses as the dominant Poaceae pollen source across the season. Targeted high throughput sequencing of routinely collected airborne pollen samples appears to offer utility to track temporal changes in the aerobiome and shifts in pollen exposure. Precise identification of the composition and temporal distributions of airborne pollen is important for tracking biodiversity and for management of allergic respiratory disease.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number141189
    Pages (from-to)1-11
    Number of pages11
    JournalScience of the Total Environment
    Publication statusPublished - 10 Dec 2020


    • Aerobiome
    • Allergic rhinitis
    • Metabarcoding
    • Next generation sequencing
    • Pollen-monitoring
    • Subtropics


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