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Characterizing the secret diets of siphonophores (Cnidaria: Hydrozoa) using DNA metabarcoding

  • Damian-Serrano, Alejandro
  • Hetherington, Elizabeth D
  • Choy, C Anela
  • Haddock, Steven HD
  • Lapides, Alexandra
  • Dunn, Casey W
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2022
eScholarship - University of California
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Siphonophores (Cnidaria: Hydrozoa) are abundant and diverse gelatinous predators in open-ocean ecosystems. Due to limited access to the midwater, little is known about the diets of most deep-dwelling gelatinous species, which constrains our understanding of food-web structure and nutrient flow in these vast ecosystems. Visual gut-content methods can rarely identify soft-bodied rapidly-digested prey, while observations from submersibles often overlook small prey items. These methods have been differentially applied to shallow and deep siphonophore taxa, confounding habitat and methodological biases. DNA metabarcoding can be used to assess both shallow and deep species' diets under a common methodological framework, since it can detect both small and gelatinous prey. We (1) further characterized the diets of open-ocean siphonophores using DNA metabarcoding, (2) compared the prey detected by visual and molecular methods to evaluate their technical biases, and (3) evaluated tentacle-based predictions of diet. To do this, we performed DNA metabarcoding analyses on the gut contents of 39 siphonophore species across depths to describe their diets, using six barcode regions along the 18S gene. Taxonomic identifications were assigned using public databases combined with local zooplankton sequences. We identified 55 unique prey items, including crustaceans, gelatinous animals, and fish across 47 siphonophore specimens in 24 species. We reported 29 novel predator-prey interactions, among them the first insights into the diets of nine siphonophore species, many of which were congruent with the dietary predictions based on tentilla morphology. Our analyses detected both small and gelatinous prey taxa underrepresented by visual methods in species from both shallow and deep habitats, indicating that siphonophores play similar trophic roles across depth habitats. We also reveal hidden links between siphonophores and filter-feeders near the base of the food web. This study expands our understanding of the ecological roles of siphonophores in the open ocean, their trophic roles within the 'jelly-web', and the importance of their diversity for nutrient flow and ecosystem functioning. Understanding these inconspicuous yet ubiquitous predator-prey interactions is critical to predict the impacts of climate change, overfishing, and conservation policies on oceanic ecosystems.

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