High-Throughput Sequencing Characterizes Intertidal Meiofaunal Communities in Northern Gulf of Mexico (Dauphin Island and Mobile Bay, Alabama)
Abstract. Meiofauna are important components of food webs and for nutrient exchange between the benthos and water column. Recent studies have focused on these communities in the Gulf of Mexico due to potential impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill (DWHOS). In particular, intertidal meiofaunal communities from Mobile Bay and Dauphin Island, Alabama, were previously shown to shift from predominately metazoan taxa prior to DWHOS to a fungal-dominated community after the spill. However, knowledge of variability within these communities remains unknown. Herein, we used Illumina high-throughput amplicon sequencing to examine variation throughout a year for the same locations for which the organismal shift was noted. Sediment samples were collected bi-monthly for a year (July 2011–July 2012) from which the meiofaunal community was examined by sequencing the eukaryotic hypervariable V9 region of the 18S rRNA gene. Results showed that the presence of fungal taxa was limited within these communities, suggesting that previously reported acute impacts of the DWHOS on meiofauna were apparently short term. However, these meiofaunal communities show shifts in proportions of metazoan taxa compared to pre-spill samples. Whether this change is due to prolonged impacts of the spill or variation in community composition is unclear. Taxonomic variation within and between sampled locations throughout the study was observed, suggesting potential yearly variation in communities. Continued sampling over a longer timeframe will provide a more complete understanding of seasonality and variation within these communities. Such a baseline is required to assess future anthropogenic impacts.