Monday, February 12, 2018

Weekend reads (after the weekend)

A little late this time but still some very interesting papers for you. You can hold on to them for the coming weekend or read them right away. Your choice.

Soil is often collected from a suspect's tire, vehicle, or shoes during a criminal investigation and subsequently submitted to a forensic laboratory for analysis. Plant and insect material recovered in such samples is rarely analyzed, as morphological identification is difficult. In this study, DNA barcoding was used for taxonomic identifications by targeting the gene regions known to permit discrimination in plants [maturase K (matK) and ribulose 1,5-biphosphate carboxylase (rbcL)] and insects [cytochrome oxidase subunit I (COI)]. A DNA barcode protocol suitable for processing forensic-type biological fragments was developed and its utility broadly tested with forensic-type fragments (e.g., seeds, leaves, bark, head, legs; n, 213) isolated from soils collected within Virginia, USA (n, 11). Difficulties with PCR inhibitors in plant extracts and obtaining clean Sanger sequence data from insect amplicons were encountered during protocol development; however, the final protocol produced sequences specific to the expected locus and taxa. The overall quantity and quality of DNA extracted from the 213 forensic-type biological fragments was low (< 15 ng/μL). For plant fragments, only the rbcL sequence data was deemed reliable; thus, taxonomic identifications were limited to the family level. The majority of insect sequences matched COI in both GenBank and Barcode of Life DataSystems; however, they were identified as an undescribed environmental contaminant. Although limited taxonomic information was gleaned from the forensic-type fragments processed in this study, the new protocol shows promise for obtaining reliable and specific identifications through DNA barcoding, which could ultimately enhance the information gleaned from soil examinations.

Gelatinous zooplankton are a large component of the animal biomass in all marine environments, but are considered to be uncommon in the diet of most marine top predators. However, the diets of key predator groups like seabirds have conventionally been assessed from stomach content analyses, which cannot detect most gelatinous prey. As marine top predators are used to identify changes in the overall species composition of marine ecosystems, such biases in dietary assessment may impact our detection of important ecosystem regime shifts. We investigated albatross diet using DNA metabarcoding of scats to assess the prevalence of gelatinous zooplankton consumption by two albatross species, one of which is used as an indicator species for ecosystem monitoring. Black-browed and Campbell albatross scats were collected from eight breeding colonies covering the circumpolar range of these birds over two consecutive breeding seasons. Fish was the main dietary item at most sites; however, cnidarian DNA, primarily from scyphozoan jellyfish, was present in 42% of samples overall and up to 80% of samples at some sites. Jellyfish was detected during all breeding stages and consumed by adults and chicks. Trawl fishery catches of jellyfish near the Falkland Islands indicate a similar frequency of jellyfish occurrence in albatross diets in years of high and low jellyfish availability, suggesting jellyfish consumption may be selective rather than opportunistic. Warmer oceans and overfishing of finfish are predicted to favour jellyfish population increases, and we demonstrate here that dietary DNA metabarcoding enables measurements of the contribution of gelatinous zooplankton to the diet of marine predators.

Fungi play a key role in soil-plant interactions, nutrient cycling and carbon flow and are essential for the functioning of arctic terrestrial ecosystems. Some studies have shown that the composition of fungal communities is highly sensitive to variations in environmental conditions, but little is known about how the conditions control the role of fungal communities (i.e., their ecosystem function). We used DNA metabarcoding to compare taxonomic and functional composition of fungal communities along a gradient of environmental severity in Northeast Greenland. We analysed soil samples from fell fields, heaths and snowbeds, three habitats with very contrasting abiotic conditions. We also assessed within-habitat differences by comparing three widespread microhabitats (patches with high cover of Dryas, Salix, or bare soil). The data suggest that, along the sampled mesotopographic gradient, the greatest differences in both fungal richness and community composition are observed amongst habitats, while the effect of microhabitat is weaker, although still significant. Furthermore, we found that richness and community composition of fungi are shaped primarily by abiotic factors and to a lesser, though still significant extent, by floristic composition. Along this mesotopographic gradient, environmental severity is strongly correlated with richness in all fungal functional groups: positively in saprotrophic, pathogenic and lichenised fungi, and negatively in ectomycorrhizal and root endophytic fungi. Our results suggest complex interactions amongst functional groups, possibly due to nutrient limitation or competitive exclusion, with potential implications on soil carbon stocks. These findings are important in the light of the environmental changes predicted for the Arctic.

Since the advent of DNA metabarcoding surveys, the planktonic realm is considered a treasure trove of diversity, inhabited by a small number of abundant taxa, and a hugely diverse and taxonomically uncharacterized consortium of rare species. Here we assess if the apparent underestimation of plankton diversity applies universally. We target planktonic foraminifera, a group of protists whose known morphological diversity is limited, taxonomically resolved and linked to ribosomal DNA barcodes. We generated a pyrosequencing dataset of ~100,000 partial 18S rRNA foraminiferal sequences from 32 size fractioned photic-zone plankton samples collected at 8 stations in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans during the Tara Oceans expedition (2009-2012). We identified 69 genetic types belonging to 41 morphotaxa in our metabarcoding dataset. The diversity saturated at local and regional scale as well as in the three size fractions and the two depths sampled indicating that the diversity of foraminifera is modest and finite. The large majority of the newly discovered lineages occur in the small size fraction, neglected by classical taxonomy. These unknown lineages dominate the bulk [>0.8 µm] size fraction, implying that a considerable part of the planktonic foraminifera community biomass has its origin in unknown lineages.

Niche partitioning through foraging is a mechanism likely involved in facilitating the coexistence of ecologically similar and co-occurring animal species by separating their use of resources. Yet, this mechanism is not well understood in flying insectivorous animals. This is particularly true of bats, where many ecologically similar or cryptic species coexist. The detailed analysis of the foraging niche in sympatric, cryptic sibling species provides an excellent framework to disentangle the role of specific niche factors likely involved in facilitating coexistence. We used DNA metabarcoding to determine the prey species consumed by a population of sympatric sibling Rhinolophus euryale and R. mehelyi whose use of habitat in both sympatric and allopatric ranges has been well established through radio tracking. Although some subtle dietary differences exist in prey species composition, the diet of both bats greatly overlapped (Ojk = 0.83) due to the consumption of the same common and widespread moths. Those dietary differences we did detect might be related to divergences in prey availabilities among foraging habitats, which prior radio tracking on the same population showed are differentially used and selected when both species co-occur. This minor dietary segregation in sympatry may be the result of foraging on the same prey-types and could contribute to reduce potential competitive interactions (e.g. for prey, acoustic space). Our results highlight the need to evaluate the spatial niche dimension in mediating the co-occurrence of similar insectivorous bat species, a niche factor likely involved in processes of bat species coexistence.

The environmental health of aquatic ecosystems is critical to society, yet traditional assessments of water quality have limited utility for some bodies of water such as large rivers. Sequencing of environmental DNA (eDNA) has the potential to complement if not replace traditional sampling of biotic assemblages for the purposes of reconstructing aquatic assemblages and, by proxy, assessing water quality. Despite this potential, there has been little testing of the ability of eDNA to reconstruct assemblages and their absolute and relative utility to infer water quality metrics. Here, we reconstruct phytoplankton communities by amplifying and sequencing DNA from a portion of the 23S rRNA region from filtered water samples along a 2900-km transect in the Mississippi River. Across the entire length, diatoms dominated the assemblage (72.6%) followed by cryptophytes (8.7%) and cyanobacteria (7.0%). There were no general trends in the abundances of these major taxa along the length of the river, but individual taxon abundance peaked in different regions. For example, the abundance of taxa genetically similar to Melosira tropica peaked at approximately 60% of all reads 2750 km upstream from the Gulf of Mexico, while taxa similar to Skeletonema marinoi began to increase below the confluence with the Missouri River until it reached approximately 30% of the reads at the Gulf of Mexico. There were four main clusters of samples based on phytoplankton abundance, two above the confluence with the Missouri and two below. Phytoplankton abundance was a poor predictor of NH4+ concentrations in the water, but predicted 61% and 80% of the variation in observed NO3- and PO43- concentrations, respectively. Phytoplankton richness increased with increasing distance along the river, but was best explained by phosphate concentrations and water clarity. Along the Mississippi transect, there was similar structure to phytoplankton and bacterial assemblages, indicating that the two sets of organisms are responding to similar environmental factors. In all, the research here demonstrates the potential utility of metabarcoding for reconstructing aquatic assemblages, which might aid in conducting water quality assessments.

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