Replicate DNA metabarcoding can discriminate seasonal and spatial abundance shifts in river macroinvertebrate assemblages

Bush, A. and Compson, Z. and Rideout, N. K. and Levenstein, B. and Kattilakoski, M. and Hajibabaei, M. and Monk, W. A. and Wright, M. T. G. and Baird, D. J. (2023) Replicate DNA metabarcoding can discriminate seasonal and spatial abundance shifts in river macroinvertebrate assemblages. Molecular Ecology Resources, 23 (6). pp. 1275-1287. ISSN 1755-098X

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The delivery of consistent and accurate fine‐resolution data on biodiversity using metabarcoding promises to improve environmental assessment and research. Whilst this approach is a substantial improvement upon traditional techniques, critics note that metabarcoding data are suitable for establishing taxon occurrence, but not abundance. We propose a novel hierarchical approach to recovering abundance information from metabarcoding, and demonstrate this technique using benthic macroinvertebrates. To sample a range of abundance structures without introducing additional changes in composition, we combined seasonal surveys with fish‐exclusion experiments at Catamaran Brook in northern New Brunswick, Canada. Five monthly surveys collected 31 benthic samples for DNA metabarcoding divided between caged and control treatments. A further six samples per survey were processed using traditional morphological identification for comparison. By estimating the probability of detecting a single individual, multispecies abundance models infer changes in abundance based on changes in detection frequency. Using replicate detections of 184 genera (and 318 species) from metabarcoding samples, our analysis identified changes in abundance arising from both seasonal dynamics and the exclusion of fish predators. Counts obtained from morphological samples were highly variable, a feature that limited the opportunity for more robust comparison, and emphasizing the difficulty standard methods also face to detect changes in abundance. Our approach is the first to demonstrate how quantitative estimates of abundance can be made using metabarcoding, both among species within sites as well as within species among sites. Many samples are required to capture true abundance patterns, particularly in streams where counts are highly variable, but few studies can afford to process entire samples. Our approach allows study of responses across whole communities, and at fine taxonomic resolution. We discuss how ecological studies can use additional sampling to capture changes in abundance at fine resolution, and how this can complement broad‐scale biomonitoring using DNA metabarcoding.

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Journal Article
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Molecular Ecology Resources
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11 Apr 2023 13:40
Last Modified:
22 Sep 2023 00:53