Assessing benthic meiofaunal community structure in the Alaskan Arctic: A high-throughput DNA sequencing approach

Project Description

Rapid change is occurring in the Arctic marine environment concurrently with increased human activity, particularly in the form of petroleum resource exploration and development activities, yet our knowledge of the structure and function of Arctic marine communities is still rudimentary. We cannot adequately assess the effects of either regional climate-related trends or acute disturbance impacts on these communities without baseline data on the abundance, distribution, and structure of key faunal assemblages. We are conducting the first such surveys for benthic meiofaunal invertebrates in the Chukchi and Beaufort lease sale areas using rapid, cost-effective high-throughput gene sequencing approaches. Sediment communities are ideally suited to tracking long-term change because they tend to dampen short-term seasonal or interannual "noise" in many environmental characteristics (e.g., primary production, hydrographic features). Moreover, benthic infauna are widely used as indicators of disturbance impacts because they are relatively non-motile, reproduce rapidly, and respond very quickly to change. Despite their importance to monitoring efforts, sediment meiofaunal communities are notoriously difficult to characterize because they lack obvious morphological features used to identify species, and are time-consuming to work with due to their extremely small size. However, our DNA-based approaches provide an alternative to the standard labor-intensive microscopy techniques, and allow for rapid assessment of meiofaunal community structure and diversity. In addition, these approaches provides more detailed information about the community, allowing for identification of species-specific responses to different degrees of disturbance (e.g., concentrations of hydrocarbons following an oil spill) that could be used to select indicator species for monitoring efforts.

Research Team

Principal Investigator

picture of Sarah Hardy

Sarah Hardy

Associate Professor
  • Benthic-pelagic coupling
  • Polar marine ecology
  • Reproduction and life-history strategies of marine invertebrates
  • Trophic interactions
  • Lipid and stable isotope analysis
  • Ecology of soft-sediment habitats
(907) 474-7616
Full Profile

Co-Principal Investigator

Holly Bik, University of Birmingham (UK),


Research Student Staff

Alexis Walker - CFOS

Project Funding

North Pacific Research Board
Amount: 255400
Start Date: 2013-07-00 End Date: 2016-06-00

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