The rate of information collection generated by metagenomics is uncoupled with its meaningful ecological interpretation. New analytical approaches based on functional trait-based ecology may help to bridge this gap and extend the trait approach to the community level in vast and complex environmental genetic data sets. Here, we explored a set of community traits that range from nucleotidic to genomic properties in 53 metagenomic aquatic samples from the Global Ocean Sampling (GOS) expedition. We found significant differences between the community profile derived from the commonly used 16S rRNA gene and from the functional trait set. The traits proved to be valuable ecological markers by discriminating between marine ecosystems (coastal vs. open ocean) and between oceans (Atlantic vs. Indian vs. Pacific). Intertrait relationships were also assessed, and we propose some that could be further used as habitat descriptors or indicators of artefacts during sample processing. Overall, the approach presented here may help to interpret metagenomics data to gain a full understanding of microbial community patterns in a rigorous ecological framework.
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