Detecting the hidden diversity

Molecular approaches are revising global estimates of zooplankton diversity.​
Published: 26 November 2021

​​Zooplankton diversity is key to pelagic ecosystem function and resistance to stressors, e.g., natural variation, climate change, and commercial harvesting. The assemblage includes thousands of species, ranging from single-celled organisms to invertebrates belonging to more than 30 different taxonomic groups spanning 15 phyla. 

Zooplankton biodiversity remains a significant unknown throughout the global ocean. Molecular approaches have provided remarkable solutions for the challenge of analyzing zooplankton diversity as part of regular monitoring and management of ocean ecosystems. DNA barcode sequences have been widely used to ensure reliable species-level identification; DNA metabarcoding (i.e. high throughput sequencing of short barcode regions from environmental samples) allows rapid analysis of diversity of samples. 

Patterns of Biodiversity of Marine Zooplankton Based on Molecular Analysis is the latest themed set of articles from​ ICES Journal of Marine Science. This collection showcases examples of the ongoing refinement of molecular approaches for analysis of zooplankton diversity. 

"Applications of molecular approaches include analysis of trophic relationships by metabarcoding of gut contents, as well as investigation of the underlying ecological and evolutionary forces driving zooplankton diversity and structure.​​"​ (Bucklin et al​. 2021)​​.

The introductory paper, “New insights into biodiversity, biogeography, ecology, and evolution of marine zooplankton based on molecular approaches", provides an overview of the new results and potential benefits. These include new capacity for species-level identifications, quantitative analysis of abundance or biomass, and direct comparisons with other monitoring approaches (e.g. morphological/microscopic, optical, and acoustical). 

The overarching goals are to improve our knowledge and understanding of the biodiversity of the pelagic assemblage, and to facilitate and promote the use of molecular analysis of zooplankton diversity in the context of routine monitoring and management of marine ecosystems.​​


Ann Bucklin​,​University of Connecticut, US, has been one of the main motivators behind this themed set, along with her co-authors, Katja T.C.A. Peijnenburg​, Ksenia Kosobokova, and Ryuji J. Machida. They are members of an international working group of the Scientific Committee for Oceanic Research (SCOR WG157) and MetaZooGene. This group works towards accelerating progress using novel DNA-based approaches t​o understand biodiversity and roles of zooplankton in ocean ecosystems.​ Additional contributions are by members of ICES Working Group for Integrated Morphological and Molecular Taxonomic (WGIMT).

Find the latest themed set Patterns of Biodiversity of Marine Zooplankton Based on Molecular Analysis in the latest issue of ICES Journal of Marine Science.

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Cartoon by Bas Köhler. Click to enlarge.

What is Metabarcoding?
Metabarcoding is the large-scale taxonomic identification of complex environmental samples via analysis of DNA sequences for short regions of one or a few genes (called DNA barcodes). Metabarcoding relies on high-throughput DNA sequencing (HTS) technologies, which yield millions of DNA sequences in parallel and allow large-scale analysis of environmental samples. The taxonomic complexity of marine zooplankton makes metabarcoding particularly useful for characterization of biodiversity." (MetaZooGene)

The Scientific Committee on Oceanic Research Working Group (SCOR) 157 runs from 2019–2022. MetaZooGene is a product-in-development of SCOR 157.

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Detecting the hidden diversity

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