Metagenetic analysis of patterns of distribution and diversity of marine meiobenthic eukaryotes

Vera G. Fonseca, Gary R. Carvalho, Ben Nichols, Christopher Quince, Harriet F. Johnson, Simon P. Neill, John D. Lambshead, W. Kelley Thomas, Deborah M. Power, Simon Creer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Citations (Scopus)


Aim: Meiofaunal communities that inhabit the marine benthos offer unique opportunities to simultaneously study the macroecology of numerous phyla that exhibit different life-history strategies. Here, we ask: (1) if the macroecology of meiobenthic communities is explained mainly by dispersal constraints or by environmental conditions; and (2) if levels of meiofaunal diversity surpass existing estimates based on morphological taxonomy. Location: UK and mainland European coast. Methods: Next-generation sequencing techniques (NGS; Roche 454 FLX platform) using 18S nuclear small subunit ribosomal DNA (rDNA) gene. Pyrosequences were analysed using AmpliconNoise followed by chimera removal using Perseus. Results: Rarefaction curves revealed that sampling saturation was only reached at 15% of sites, highlighting that the bulk of meiofaunal diversity is yet to be discovered. Overall, 1353 OTUs were recovered and assigned to 23 different phyla. The majority of sampled sites had c. 60-70 unique operational taxonomic units (OTUs) per site, indicating high levels of beta diversity. The environmental parameters that best explained community structure were seawater temperature, geographical distance and sediment size, but most of the variability (R2=70%-80%) remains unexplained. Main conclusions: High percentages of endemic OTUs suggest that meiobenthic community composition is partly niche-driven, as observed in larger organisms, but also shares macroecological features of microorganisms by showing high levels of cosmopolitanism (albeit on a much smaller scale). Meiobenthic communities exhibited patterns of isolation by distance as well as associations between niche, latitude and temperature, indicating that meiobenthic communities result from a combination of niche assembly and dispersal processes. Conversely, isolation-by-distance patterns were not identified in the featured protists, suggesting that animals and protists adhere to radically different macroecological processes, linked to life-history strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1293-1302
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal Ecology and Biogeography
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2014


  • 454 Roche pyrosequencing
  • Environmental metagenetics
  • Macroecology
  • Marine eukaryotes
  • Meiofauna
  • Metabarcoding
  • Microscopic biodiversity
  • Next-generation sequencing

Cite this