Assessing the health and productivity of Southern California estuaries using high-throughput sequencing of benthic meiofauna

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Focus Area(s)
Healthy Coastal Ecosystems

Tiny organisms that live between grains of sand in the marine environment, known as meiofaunal species, play key roles in the ecosystem. These species include roundworms, flatworms, water bears, protists, and fungi, as well as eggs and larvae of larger species. They serve as prey for larger species, and contribute to nutrient cycling, sediment respiration, and sediment stability.

Because they are so small, very little is known about the diversity of meiofaunal species. 

However, comprehensive data on these organisms have the potential to be excellent environmental indicators.

This project aims to establish and use environmental metabarcoding approaches to gain a better understanding of meiofaunal species and their potential as environmental indicators while providing a critical genetic resource for coastal California sediments.

Research suggests that we cannot adequately assess effects of marine pollutants or coastal restoration projects without baseline data on the abundance, distribution and structure of key meiofaunal groups.

This project will build a collaboration between the University of California Riverside and the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP) to develop the first standardized methods for meiofauna sampling as routine components of environmental assessments and monitoring, in addition to paving the way for using meiofauna assemblages as important environmental tools in estuary management.