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Variations in Zooplankton Biodiversity Across the Sargasso Sea

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The Sargasso Sea is an oligotrophic high seas 'ocean desert' bounded only by the currents of the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre. Despite low nutrient conditions and low primary productivity, the Sargasso Sea supports a large community of unique, diverse, and understudied organisms largely associated with the pelagic brown algae Sargassum, which spends its life circulating the gyre and creates 'oases' for organisms. Beyond the surface diversity of the Sargasso Sea, the mesopelagic (twilight zone) contains a vast reservoir of poorly sampled and understudied marine animals. Each of these organisms has a key role in the Sargasso Sea food web and contribute to biogeochemical/carbon cycling in this region of low productivity. It is therefore important to better understand the biodiversity in the Sargasso Sea to make effective conservation efforts and management plans. One useful conservation tool is environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis which can be used for biomonitoring of remote regions like the Sargasso Sea and twilight zone. Environmental DNA is the DNA that is shed by organisms as they move through the water and can be extracted from water samples and identified using species specific genetic barcodes (metabarcodes) to demonstrate the presence of a species in the water without having to capture or see them. In this project, an array of Sargassum-associated mobile, epipelagic, and mesopelagic fauna were collected, morphologically identified, and sequenced to see how biodiversity varied across the Sargasso Sea and with depth, and to create a metabarcode library for metazoans in the Sargasso Sea.

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Variations in Zooplankton Biodiversity Across the Sargasso Sea

The Sargasso Sea is an oligotrophic high seas 'ocean desert' bounded only by the currents of the North Atlantic Subtropical Gyre. Despite low nutrient conditions and low primary productivity, the Sargasso Sea supports a large community of unique, diverse, and understudied organisms largely associated with the pelagic brown algae Sargassum, which spends its life circulating the gyre and creates 'oases' for organisms. Beyond the surface diversity of the Sargasso Sea, the mesopelagic (twilight zone) contains a vast reservoir of poorly sampled and understudied marine animals. Each of these organisms has a key role in the Sargasso Sea food web and contribute to biogeochemical/carbon cycling in this region of low productivity. It is therefore important to better understand the biodiversity in the Sargasso Sea to make effective conservation efforts and management plans. One useful conservation tool is environmental DNA (eDNA) analysis which can be used for biomonitoring of remote regions like the Sargasso Sea and twilight zone. Environmental DNA is the DNA that is shed by organisms as they move through the water and can be extracted from water samples and identified using species specific genetic barcodes (metabarcodes) to demonstrate the presence of a species in the water without having to capture or see them. In this project, an array of Sargassum-associated mobile, epipelagic, and mesopelagic fauna were collected, morphologically identified, and sequenced to see how biodiversity varied across the Sargasso Sea and with depth, and to create a metabarcode library for metazoans in the Sargasso Sea.