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A metagenetic approach for revealing community structure of marine planktonic copepods



Marine planktonic copepods are an ecologically important group with high species richness and abundance. Here, we propose a new metagenetic approach for revealing the community structure of marine planktonic copepods using 454 pyrosequencing of nuclear large subunit ribosomal DNA. We determined an appropriate similarity threshold for clustering pyrosequencing data into molecular operational taxonomic units (MOTUs) using an artificial community containing 33 morphologically identified species. The 99% similarity threshold had high species-level resolution for MOTU clustering but overestimated species richness. The artificial community was appropriately clustered into MOTUs at 97% similarity, with little inflation in MOTU numbers and with relatively high species-level resolution. The number of sequence reads of each MOTU was correlated with dry weight of that taxon, suggesting that sequence reads could be used as a proxy for biomass. Next, we applied the method to field-collected samples, and the results corresponded reasonably well with morphological analysis of these communities. Numbers of MOTUs were well correlated with species richness at 97% similarity, and large numbers of sequence reads were generally observed in MOTUs derived from species with large biomass. Further, MOTUs were successfully classified into taxonomic groups at the family level at 97% similarity; similar patterns of species richness and biomass were revealed within families with metagenetic and morphological analyses. At the 99% similarity threshold, MOTUs with high proportions of sequence reads were identified as biomass-dominant species in each field-collected sample. The metagenetic approach reported here can be an effective tool for rapid and comprehensive assessment of copepod community structure.