Revealing higher than expected meiofaunal diversity in Antarctic sediments: a metabarcoding approach
An increasing number of studies are showing that Antarctic mega- and macrofauna are highly diverse, however, little is known about meiofaunal biodiversity in sediment communities, which are a vital part of a healthy and functional ecosystem. This is the first study to analyse community DNA (targeting meiofauna) using metabarcoding to investigate biodiversity levels in sediment communities of the Antarctic Peninsula. The results show that almost all of the meiofaunal biodiversity in the benthic habitat has yet to be characterised, levels of biodiversity were higher than expected and similar to temperate regions, albeit with the existence of potentially new and locally adapted species never described before at the molecular level. The Rothera meiofaunal sample sites showed four dominant eukaryotic groups, the nematodes, arthropods, platyhelminthes, and the annelids; some of which could comprise species complexes. Comparisons with deep-sea data from the same region suggest little exchange of Operational Taxonomic Units (OTUs) between depths with the nematodes prevalent at all depths, but sharing the shallow water benthos with the copepods. This study provides a preliminary analysis of benthic Antarctic Peninsula meiofauna using high throughput sequencing which substantiates how little is known on the biodiversity of one of the most diverse, yet underexplored communities of the Antarctic: the benthos.