Quantitative species-level ecology of reef fish larvae via metabarcoding

Naama Kimmerling, Omer Zuqert, Gil Amitai, Tamara Gurevich, Rachel Armoza-Zvuloni, Irina Kolesnikov, Igal Berenshtein, Sarah Melamed, Shlomit Gilad, Sima Benjamin, Asaph Rivlin, Moti Ohavia, Claire B. Paris, Roi Holzman, Moshe Kiflawi, Rotem Sorek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The larval pool of coral reef fish has a crucial role in the dynamics of adult fish populations. However, large-scale species-level monitoring of species-rich larval pools has been technically impractical. Here, we use high-throughput metabarcoding to study larval ecology in the Gulf of Aqaba, a region that is inhabited by >500 reef fish species. We analysed 9,933 larvae from 383 samples that were stratified over sites, depth and time. Metagenomic DNA extracted from pooled larvae was matched to a mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase subunit I barcode database compiled for 77% of known fish species within this region. This yielded species-level reconstruction of the larval community, allowing robust estimation of larval spatio-temporal distributions. We found significant correlations between species abundance in the larval pool and in local adult assemblages, suggesting a major role for larval supply in determining local adult densities. We documented larval flux of species whose adults were never documented in the region, suggesting environmental filtering as the reason for the absence of these species. Larvae of several deep-sea fishes were found in shallow waters, supporting their dispersal over shallow bathymetries, potentially allowing Lessepsian migration into the Mediterranean Sea. Our method is applicable to any larval community and could assist coral reef conservation and fishery management efforts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)306-316
Number of pages11
JournalNature Ecology and Evolution
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s).

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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