Unexpected prevalence of parasite 18S rDNA sequences in winter among Antarctic marine protists

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Abstract

Parasites are not typically considered to be important components of polar marine ecosystems. It was therefore surprising when 18S rDNA surveys of protists in the West Antarctic Peninsula in winter revealed high abundances of parasite sequences. Parasite sequences made up, on average, over half (52%) of sequence reads in samples from deep water in winter. Winter surface water and sediment samples contained relatively fewer, but still strikingly high, parasite sequence reads (13 and 9%, respectively), while surface water samples in summer contained fewer parasite sequences (1.8%). A total of 1028 distinct parasite Operational Taxonomic Units were observed in winter, with the largest abundances and diversities within Syndiniales groups I and II, including Amoebophrya. Less abundant parasite sequence groups included Apicomplexa, Blastodinium, Chytriodinium, Cryptocaryon, Paradinium, Perkinsidae, Pirsonia and Ichthyophonae. Parasite sequence distributions suggested interactions with known hosts, such as diatom parasites which were mainly in the sediments, where resting spores of Chaetoceros spp. diatoms were abundant. Syndiniales sequences were correlated with radiolarian sequences, suggesting parasite-host interactions. The abundant proportions of parasite sequences indicate a potentially important role for parasites in the Antarctic marine ecosystem, with implications for plankton population dynamics, the role of the microbial loop, carbon flows and ecosystem responses to ongoing anthropogenic climate change.

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