How quantitative is metabarcoding: a meta-analytical approach

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Metabarcoding has been used in a range of ecological applications such as taxonomic assignment, dietary analysis, and the analysis of environmental DNA. However, after a decade of use in these applications there is little consensus on the extent to which proportions of reads generated corresponds to the original proportions of species in a community. To quantify our current understanding we conducted a structured review and meta‐analysis. The analysis suggests that a weak quantitative relationship may exist between the biomass and sequences produced (slope = 0.52 ±0.34, p<0.01), albeit it with a large degree of uncertainty. None of the tested moderators: sequencing platform type, the number of species used in a trial, or the source of DNA were able to explain the variance. Our current understanding of the factors affecting the quantitative performance of metabarcoding is still limited: additional research is required before metabarcoding can be confidently utilised for quantitative applications. Until then, we advocate the inclusion of mock communities when metabarcoding as this facilitates direct assessment of the quantitative ability of any given study.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)420-430
Number of pages11
JournalMolecular Ecology
Issue number2
Early online date8 Nov 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2019


  • Metabarcoding
  • biomass
  • high‐throughput
  • next‐generation
  • sequencing
  • meta‐analysis
  • metabarcoding
  • next-generation sequencing
  • meta-analysis
  • high-throughput sequencing

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