Marine environments harbour a vast diversity of micro-eukaryotic organisms (protists and other small eukaryotes) that play important roles in structuring marine ecosystems. However, micro-eukaryote diversity is not well understood. Likewise, knowledge is limited regarding micro-eukaryote spatial and seasonal distribution, especially over long temporal scales. Given the importance of this group for mobilizing energy from lower trophic levels near the base of the food chain to larger organisms, assessing community stability, diversity and resilience is important to understand ecosystem health. Herein, we use a metabarcoding approach to examine pelagic micro-eukaryote communities over a 2.5-year time series. Bimonthly surface sampling (July 2009 to December 2011) was conducted at four locations within Mobile Bay (Bay) and along the Alabama continental shelf (Shelf). Alpha-diversity only showed significant differences in Shelf sites, with the greatest differences observed between summer and winter. Beta-diversity showed significant differences in community composition in relation to season and the Bay was dominated by diatoms, while the Shelf was characterized by dinoflagellates and copepods. The northern Gulf of Mexico is heavily influenced by the Mobile River Basin, which brings low-salinity nutrient-rich water mostly during winter and spring. Community composition was correlated with salinity, temperature and dissolved silicate. However, species interactions (e.g. predation and parasitism) may also contribute to the observed variation, especially on the Shelf, which warrants further exploration. Metabarcoding revealed clear patterns in surface pelagic micro-eukaryote communities that were consistent over multiple years, demonstrating how these techniques could be greatly beneficial to ecological monitoring and management over temporal scales.
Keywords: 18S rRNA; Gulf of Mexico; Illumina; diversity; high-throughput sequencing.
© 2016 John Wiley & Sons Ltd.