Beyond the visual: using metabarcoding to characterize the hidden reef cryptobiome

Susana Carvalho, Eva Aylagas, Rodrigo Villalobos, Yasser Kattan, Michael L. Berumen, John K. Pearman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


In an era of coral reef degradation, our knowledge of ecological patterns in reefs is biased towards large conspicuous organisms. The majority of biodiversity, however, inhabits small cryptic spaces within the framework of the reef. To assess this biodiverse community, which we term the ‘reef cryptobiome’, we deployed 87 autonomous reef monitoring structures (ARMS), on 22 reefs across 16 degrees latitude of the Red Sea. Combining ARMS with metabarcoding of the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I gene, we reveal a rich community, including the identification of 14 metazoan phyla within 10 416 operational taxonomic units (OTUs). While mobile and sessile subsets were similarly structured along the basin, the main environmental driver was different (particulate organic matter and sea surface temperature, respectively). Distribution patterns of OTUs showed that only 1.5% were present in all reefs, while over half were present in a single reef. On both local and regional scales, the majority of OTUs were rare. The high heterogeneity in community patterns of the reef cryptobiome has implications for reef conservation. Understanding the biodiversity patterns of this critical component of reef functioning will enable a sound knowledge of how coral reefs will respond to future anthropogenic impacts.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)20182697
JournalProceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1896
StatePublished - Feb 13 2019


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