Special Issue "Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology"

A special issue of Diversity (ISSN 1424-2818). This special issue belongs to the section "Marine Diversity".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 March 2020).

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Federica Semprucci
Website
Guest Editor
Universita degli Studi di Urbino Carlo Bo, Urbino, Italy
Interests: meiofauna; nematoda; benthic biodiversity; marine pollution; ecological quality assessment
Prof. Dr. Roberto Sandulli
Website
Guest Editor
Department of Science and Technology, “Parthenope” University of Naples, 80143 Naples, Italy
Interests: marine meiofauna; bioconstructions; marine pollution; invasive species; marine biodiversity; marine protected areas
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The Diversity Journal is about to launch a Special Issue dedicated to Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology.

Soft-bottom habitats cover the vast majority of the ocean floor and constitute the largest ecosystem on Earth. These systems supply fundamental services, such as food production and nutrient recycling, to human beings. It is well known that meiofauna are an abundant and ubiquitous component of sediments, even though their biodiversity and importance in marine ecosystem functioning are still yet to be fully investigated. In this Special Issue, the meiofaunal biodiversity trends in marine habitats worldwide are documented, along with the collection of empirical evidence on their role in ecosystem services, such as the production, consumption, and decomposition of organic matter, and energy transfer to higher and lower trophic levels. Meiofaunal activities, like feeding and bioturbation, induce changes in several physico-chemical and biological properties of sediments, and might increase the resilience of the benthic ecosystem processes that are essential for the supply of ecosystem goods and services required by humans. As a key component of marine habitats, the taxonomical and functional aspects of the meiofaunal community are also used for the ecological assessment of the sediments quality status, giving important information on the anthropogenic impact of benthos.

Dr. Federica Semprucci
Prof. Dr. Roberto Sandulli
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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Keywords

  • Taxonomical and functional diversity
  • Ecological assessment
  • Bioindicator species
  • Benthic component interactions

Published Papers (14 papers)

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Editorial

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Open AccessEditorial
Editorial for Special Issue “Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology”
Diversity 2020, 12(6), 249; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12060249 - 19 Jun 2020
Abstract
Meiofauna are a component of aquatic environments from polar to tropical regions. They may colonize all types of habitats and include very enigmatic and exclusive taxa. The biodiversity of this component in marine ecosystems is far from being accurately estimated, but this would [...] Read more.
Meiofauna are a component of aquatic environments from polar to tropical regions. They may colonize all types of habitats and include very enigmatic and exclusive taxa. The biodiversity of this component in marine ecosystems is far from being accurately estimated, but this would be a new challenge given the importance that meiofaunal components may play in marine ecosystem functioning and processes. This Special Issue collects many interesting topics in research on meiofauna contributing to plugging a gap on several key issues in their biodiversity, distribution, and ecology, from numerous regions that include the USA, Brazil, French Guiana, Costa Rica, Mexico, Cuba, Italy, Kuwait, Vietnam, Madagascar, the Maldives, and South Korea. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)

Research

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Open AccessArticle
The Cost for Biodiversity: Records of Ciliate–Nematode Epibiosis with the Description of Three New Suctorian Species
Diversity 2020, 12(6), 224; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12060224 - 04 Jun 2020
Cited by 2
Abstract
Epibiosis is a common phenomenon in marine systems. In marine environments, ciliates are among the most common organisms adopting an epibiotic habitus and nematodes have been frequently reported as their basibionts. In the present study, we report several new records of peritrich and [...] Read more.
Epibiosis is a common phenomenon in marine systems. In marine environments, ciliates are among the most common organisms adopting an epibiotic habitus and nematodes have been frequently reported as their basibionts. In the present study, we report several new records of peritrich and suctorian ciliates-nematode association worldwide: from a deep-sea pockmark field in the NW Madagascar margin (Indian Ocean), from a shallow vent area in the Gulf of Naples (Mediterranean, Tyrrhenian Sea), in a MPA area in the Gulf of Trieste (Mediterranean, Adriatic Sea), from a mangrove system in French Guiana (South America, Atlantic Ocean), and from the Maldivian Archipelago. In addition, three new species of Suctorea from the Secca delle Fumose shallow vent area (Gulf of Naples) were described: Loricophrya susannae n. sp., Thecacineta fumosae n. sp. and Acinetopsis lynni n. sp. In the light of these new records and data from the existing literature, we discuss the suctorian–nematode epibiosis relationship as a lever to biodiversity. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)
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Open AccessArticle
Meiofauna Life on Loggerhead Sea Turtles-Diversely Structured Abundance and Biodiversity Hotspots That Challenge the Meiofauna Paradox
Diversity 2020, 12(5), 203; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12050203 - 20 May 2020
Cited by 3
Abstract
Sea turtles migrate thousands of miles annually between foraging and breeding areas, carrying dozens of epibiont species with them on their journeys. Most sea turtle epibiont studies have focused on large-sized organisms, those visible to the naked eye. Here, we report previously undocumented [...] Read more.
Sea turtles migrate thousands of miles annually between foraging and breeding areas, carrying dozens of epibiont species with them on their journeys. Most sea turtle epibiont studies have focused on large-sized organisms, those visible to the naked eye. Here, we report previously undocumented levels of epibiont abundance and biodiversity for loggerhead sea turtles (Caretta caretta), by focusing on the microscopic meiofauna. During the peak of the 2018 loggerhead nesting season at St. George Island, Florida, USA, we sampled all epibionts from 24 carapaces. From the subsamples, we identified 38,874 meiofauna individuals belonging to 20 higher taxa. This means 810,753 individuals were recovered in our survey, with an average of 33,781 individuals per carapace. Of 6992 identified nematodes, 111 different genera were observed. To our knowledge, such levels of sea turtle epibiont abundance and diversity have never been recorded. Loggerhead carapaces are without doubt hotspots of meiofaunal and nematode diversity, especially compared to other non-sedimentary substrates. The posterior carapace sections harbored higher diversity and evenness compared to the anterior and middle sections, suggesting increased colonization and potentially facilitation favoring posterior carapace epibiosis, or increased disturbance on the anterior and middle carapace sections. Our findings also shed new light on the meiofauna paradox: “How do small, benthic meiofauna organisms become cosmopolitan over large geographic ranges?” Considering high loggerhead epibiont colonization, the large distances loggerheads migrate for reproduction and feeding, and the evolutionary age and sheer numbers of sea turtles worldwide, potentially large-scale exchange and dispersal for meiofauna through phoresis is implied. We distinguished different groups of loggerhead carapaces based on divergent epibiont communities, suggesting distinct epibiont colonization processes. These epibiont observations hold potential for investigating loggerhead movements and, hence, their conservation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)
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Open AccessArticle
Sedimentary Organic Matter, Prokaryotes, and Meiofauna across a River-Lagoon-Sea Gradient
Diversity 2020, 12(5), 189; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12050189 - 12 May 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
In benthic ecosystems, organic matter (OM), prokaryotes, and meiofauna represent a functional bottleneck in the energy transfer towards higher trophic levels and all respond to a variety of natural and anthropogenic disturbances. The relationships between OM and the different components of benthic communities [...] Read more.
In benthic ecosystems, organic matter (OM), prokaryotes, and meiofauna represent a functional bottleneck in the energy transfer towards higher trophic levels and all respond to a variety of natural and anthropogenic disturbances. The relationships between OM and the different components of benthic communities are influenced by multiple environmental variables, which can vary across different habitats. However, analyses of these relationships have mostly been conducted by considering the different habitats separately, even though freshwater, transitional, and marine ecosystems, physically linked to each other, are not worlds apart. Here, we investigated the quantity and nutritional quality of sedimentary OM, along with the prokaryotic and meiofauna abundance, biomass, and biodiversity, in two sampling periods, corresponding to high vs. low freshwater inputs to the sea, along a river-to-sea transect. The highest values of sedimentary organic loads and their nutritional quality, prokaryotic and meiofaunal abundance, and biomass were consistently observed in lagoon systems. Differences in the prokaryotic Operational Taxonomic Units (OTUs) and meiofaunal taxonomic composition, rather than changes in the richness of taxa, were observed among the three habitats and, in each habitat, between sampling periods. Such differences were driven by either physical or trophic variables, though with differences between seasons. Overall, our results indicate that the apparent positive relationship between sedimentary OM, prokaryote and meiofaunal abundance, and biomass across the river-lagoon-sea transect under scrutiny is more the result of a pattern of specifically adapted prokaryotic and meiofaunal communities to different habitats, rather than an actually positive ‘response’ to OM enrichment. We conclude that the synoptic analysis of prokaryotes and meiofauna can provide useful information on the relative effect of organic enrichment and environmental settings across gradients of environmental continuums, including rivers, lagoons, and marine coastal ecosystems. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)
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Open AccessArticle
Modern Benthic Foraminiferal Diversity: An Initial Insight into the Total Foraminiferal Diversity along the Kuwait Coastal Water
Diversity 2020, 12(4), 142; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12040142 - 05 Apr 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
Kuwait territorial water hosts an important part of national biodiversity (i.e., zooplankton and phytoplankton), but very limited information exists on the overall diversity of benthic foraminifera. On the basis of the integration of publications, reports and theses with new available data from the [...] Read more.
Kuwait territorial water hosts an important part of national biodiversity (i.e., zooplankton and phytoplankton), but very limited information exists on the overall diversity of benthic foraminifera. On the basis of the integration of publications, reports and theses with new available data from the Kuwait Bay and the northern islands, this study infers the total benthic foraminiferal diversity within Kuwait territorial water. This new literature survey documents the presence of 451 species belonging to 156 genera, 64 families, 31 superfamilies and 9 orders. These values are relatively high in consideration of the limited extension and the shallow depth of the Kuwait territorial water. Kuwait waters offer a variety of different environments and sub-environments (low salinity/muddy areas in the northern part, embayment, rocky tidal flats, coral reef systems, islands and shelf slope) that all together host largely diversified benthic foraminiferal communities. These figures are herein considered as underestimated because of the grouping of unassigned species due to the lack of reference collections and materials, as well as the neglection of the soft-shell monothalamids (‘allogromiids’). Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)
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Open AccessArticle
The Effect of a Dam Construction on Subtidal Nematode Communities in the Ba Lai Estuary, Vietnam
Diversity 2020, 12(4), 137; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12040137 - 02 Apr 2020
Cited by 1
Abstract
Nematode communities and relevant environmental variables were investigated to assess how the presence of a dam affects the Ba Lai estuary benthic ecosystem, in comparison to the adjacent dam-free estuary Ham Luong. Both estuaries are part of the Mekong delta system in Vietnam. [...] Read more.
Nematode communities and relevant environmental variables were investigated to assess how the presence of a dam affects the Ba Lai estuary benthic ecosystem, in comparison to the adjacent dam-free estuary Ham Luong. Both estuaries are part of the Mekong delta system in Vietnam. This study has shown that the dam’s construction had an effect on the biochemical components of the Ba Lai estuary, as observed by the local increase in total suspended solids and heavy metal concentrations (Hg and Pb) and by a significant oxygen depletion compared to the natural river of Ham Luong. The nematode communities were also different between the two estuaries in terms of density, genus richness, Shannon–Wiener diversity, and dominant genera. The Ba Lai estuary exhibited lower nematode densities but a higher diversity, while the genus composition only slightly differed between estuaries. The results indicate that the present nematode communities may be well adapted to the natural organic load, to the heavy metal accumulation and to the oxygen stress in both estuaries, but the dam presence may potentially continue to drive the Ba Lai’s ecosystem to its tipping point. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)
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Open AccessArticle
DNA Barcoding for Delimitation of Putative Mexican Marine Nematodes Species
Diversity 2020, 12(3), 107; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12030107 - 19 Mar 2020
Cited by 3
Abstract
Nematode biodiversity is mostly unknown; while about 20,000 nematode species have been described, estimates for species diversity range from 0.1 to 100 million. The study of nematode diversity, like that of meiofaunal organisms in general, has been mostly based on morphology-based taxonomy, a [...] Read more.
Nematode biodiversity is mostly unknown; while about 20,000 nematode species have been described, estimates for species diversity range from 0.1 to 100 million. The study of nematode diversity, like that of meiofaunal organisms in general, has been mostly based on morphology-based taxonomy, a time-consuming and costly task that requires well-trained specialists. This work represents the first study on the taxonomy of Mexican nematodes that integrates morphological and molecular data. We added eleven new records to the Mexican Caribbean nematode species list: Anticomidae sp.1, Catanema sp.1, Enoploides gryphus, Eurystomina sp.1, Haliplectus bickneri, Metachromadora sp.1, Odontophora bermudensis, Oncholaimus sp.1, Onyx litorale, Proplatycoma fleurdelis, and Pontonema cf. simile. We improved the COI database with 57 new sequences from 20 morphotypes. All COI sequences obtained in this work are new entries for the international genetic databases GenBank and BOLD. Among the studied sites, we report the most extensive species record (12 species) at Cozumel. DNA barcoding and species delineation methods supported the occurrence of 20 evolutionary independent entities and confirmed the high taxonomic resolution of the COI gene. Different approaches provided consistent results: ABGD and mPTP methods disentangled 20 entities, whereas Barcode Index Numbers (BINs) recovered 22 genetic species. Results support DNA barcoding being an efficient, fast, and low-cost method to integrate into morphological observations in order to address taxonomical shortfalls in meiofaunal organisms. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)
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Open AccessArticle
A New Species of Paraturbanella Remane, 1927 (Gastrotricha, Macrodasyida) from the Brazilian Coast, and the Molecular Phylogeny of Turbanellidae Remane, 1926
Diversity 2020, 12(2), 42; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12020042 - 21 Jan 2020
Cited by 2
Abstract
The family Turbanellidae includes Paraturbanella and five other genera. Despite the fact that the monophyly of these genera were not satisfactorily tested, species belonging to the genus Paraturbanella are distinguished from turbanellids by sharing a peculiar group of tubes on the ventrolateral side [...] Read more.
The family Turbanellidae includes Paraturbanella and five other genera. Despite the fact that the monophyly of these genera were not satisfactorily tested, species belonging to the genus Paraturbanella are distinguished from turbanellids by sharing a peculiar group of tubes on the ventrolateral side of the anterior pharyngeal region known as “dohrni” tubes. In this study, Paraturbanella tricaudata species nova (sp. nov.) from the intertidal zone of a sandy beach in Trindade (Rio de Janeiro State) and the sublittoral sand of Prumirim Island (São Paulo State), Brazil, is described. The new species can be distinguished from all other Paraturbanella species by the presence of three caudal cones (one medial and two laterals to it) and peculiar arrangement of the male system. This is the first description of a Paraturbanella species from Brazil and the third registered from the Southern Hemisphere (as opposed to 19 species in the Northern Hemisphere); thus, knowledge of marine gastrotrichs biodiversity in this region is far from satisfactory. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)
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Open AccessArticle
The Effects of Habitat Heterogeneity at Distinct Spatial Scales on Hard-Bottom-Associated Communities
Diversity 2020, 12(1), 39; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12010039 - 20 Jan 2020
Cited by 4
Abstract
For marine benthic communities, environmental heterogeneity at small spatial scales are mostly due to biologically produced habitat heterogeneity and biotic interactions, while at larger spatial scales environmental factors may prevails over biotic features. In this study, we investigated how community structure and β-diversity [...] Read more.
For marine benthic communities, environmental heterogeneity at small spatial scales are mostly due to biologically produced habitat heterogeneity and biotic interactions, while at larger spatial scales environmental factors may prevails over biotic features. In this study, we investigated how community structure and β-diversity of hard-bottom-associated meio- and macrofauna varied in relation to small-scale (cm–m) changes in biological substrate (an algae “turf” dominated by the macroalgae Gelidium sp., the macroalgae Caulerpa racemosa and the sponge Hymeniacidon heliophile) in a rocky shore and in relation to larger-scale (10’s m) changes in environmental conditions of the same biological substrate (the macroalgae Bostrychia sp) in different habitats (rocky shore vs. mangrove roots). Results showed that both substrate identity and the surrounding environment were important in structuring the smaller-sized meiofauna, particularly the nematode assemblages, whereas the larger and more motile macrofauna was influenced only by larger-scale changes in the surrounding ecosystem. This implies that the macrofauna explores the environment in a larger spatial scale compared to the meiofauna, suggesting that effects of spatial heterogeneity on communities are dependent on organism size and mobility. Changes in taxa composition between environments and substrates highlight the importance of habitat diversity at different scales for maintaining the diversity of the associated fauna. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)
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Open AccessArticle
Two New Marine Free-Living Nematodes from Jeju Island Together with a Review of the Genus Gammanema Cobb 1920 (Nematoda, Chromadorida, Selachinematidae)
Diversity 2020, 12(1), 19; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12010019 - 01 Jan 2020
Cited by 2
Abstract
In the context of exploration of meiofauna in a sandy intertidal zone of Jeju Island (South Korea), over 70 nematode species are identified, some which have been proven to be new for science. Two new free-living marine nematode species of the family Selachinematidae [...] Read more.
In the context of exploration of meiofauna in a sandy intertidal zone of Jeju Island (South Korea), over 70 nematode species are identified, some which have been proven to be new for science. Two new free-living marine nematode species of the family Selachinematidae (Chromadorida, Selachinematidae, Choniolaiminae) are described from the intertidal sandy sediments of Jeju Island (South Korea). Gammanema okhlopkovi sp. n. is closest to Gammanema anthostoma (Okhlopkov, 2002) and differs by having longer cephalic setae (8.5–19 μm in G. okhlopkovi versus 6–7.5 μm in G. anthostoma) and by the presence of precloacal supplementary organs. The genus diagnosis of Gammanema is updated. The genus includes fourteen valid species, while three species are considered species inquirendae due to incomplete diagnoses and illustrations impeding their correct recognition. An annotated list of valid and invalid Gammanema species is provided. A pictorial key for valid Gammanema species is constructed, which consists of two components: (1) simplified images of heads, and (2) a table summarizing most of the significant measured and numeric characters between species. Latronema obscuramphis sp. n. differs from its related species Latronema aberrans (Allgén 1934), Latronema annulatum (Gerlach, 1953), and Latronema spinosum (Andrássy, 1973) by body size, number of supplementary organs, tail shape, length of spicules, and cuticle ornamentation. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)
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Open AccessArticle
A New Species of Monstrillopsis Sars, 1921 (Copepoda: Monstrilloida) with an Unusually Reduced Urosome
Diversity 2020, 12(1), 9; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12010009 - 20 Dec 2019
Cited by 1
Abstract
Male monstrilloid copepods, described herein as Monstrillopsis paradoxa sp. nov., were collected from the Chuja Islands, Jeju, Korea, using a light trap. They display many of the common features of Monstrillopsis, including large, prominent eyes, an anteriorly positioned oral papilla, and four [...] Read more.
Male monstrilloid copepods, described herein as Monstrillopsis paradoxa sp. nov., were collected from the Chuja Islands, Jeju, Korea, using a light trap. They display many of the common features of Monstrillopsis, including large, prominent eyes, an anteriorly positioned oral papilla, and four setae on each caudal ramus. Type-2 modification of the antennules further supports the assignment of the new species to Monstrillopsis. However, the present specimens have an unusually low number of urosomal somites, just three in total, compared to five in males of all congeneric species, and from four (in Cymbasoma) to five in males of all other monstrilloid genera. Up until now, in the Monstrilloida only females of Cymbasoma have been known to have as few as three urosomal somites. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)
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Open AccessArticle
Doolia, A New Genus of Nannopodidae (Crustacea: Copepoda: Harpacticoida) from off Jeju Island, Korea
Diversity 2020, 12(1), 3; https://doi.org/10.3390/d12010003 - 18 Dec 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
A new harpacticoid copepod is described from the waters off Jeju Island, Korea. This species displays a unique set of characteristics including a rostrum that is clearly demarcated from the cephalosome, a setular (spinular) row on the rostrum, a well-developed frill along the [...] Read more.
A new harpacticoid copepod is described from the waters off Jeju Island, Korea. This species displays a unique set of characteristics including a rostrum that is clearly demarcated from the cephalosome, a setular (spinular) row on the rostrum, a well-developed frill along the posterior margins of each body segment except for the cephalosome, long and cylindrical caudal rami, four segmented female antennules, paired genital apertures in the female, the absence of sexual dimorphism in legs P1–P4, and highly reduced P5 and P6 in the male. This combination of characteristics allocates the specimen to the family Nannopodidae Por, 1986, but the new species belongs to none of the extant genera within the family. A new genus, Doolia, is proposed. Nannopus is suggested as a sister taxon of the new genus based on shared plesiomorphic characteristics in the maxilliped, legs P1–P4, and P5. Doolia gen. nov. is the eighth genus of Nannopodidae, and an amended key for the genus is provided herein. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)
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Open AccessArticle
The Influential Role of the Habitat on the Diversity Patterns of Free-Living Aquatic Nematode Assemblages in the Cuban Archipelago
Diversity 2019, 11(9), 166; https://doi.org/10.3390/d11090166 - 16 Sep 2019
Cited by 2
Abstract
Free living nematodes are the most abundant and diverse metazoans in aquatic sediments. We used a framework of habitat types to reveal quantitative patterns in species richness (SR), β-diversity, and biological traits (BT). Meiofauna was quantitatively collected from 60 sites within nine habitat [...] Read more.
Free living nematodes are the most abundant and diverse metazoans in aquatic sediments. We used a framework of habitat types to reveal quantitative patterns in species richness (SR), β-diversity, and biological traits (BT). Meiofauna was quantitatively collected from 60 sites within nine habitat types and 24,736 nematodes were identified to species level. We reported a regional richness of 410 ± 12 species for the Cuban archipelago; however, caves and deep waters need to be sampled more intensively. Relationships between SR and abundance supported the dynamic equilibrium model with habitats ordered across gradients of resource availability and physical disturbance. Seagrass meadows were the most specious and freshwater/anchihaline caves the least diverse habitats. Differences in β-diversity likely were due to habitat heterogeneity and limitations for dispersal. The assemblage composition was unique in some habitats likely reflecting the effects of habitat filtering. However, coastal habitats shared many species reflecting high connectivity and dispersal capability of nematodes due to hydrodynamics. The BTs “life strategy”, “trophic group”, and “tail shape” reflected ecological adaptations; but “amphidial fovea” and “cuticle”, likely reflected phylogenetic signatures from families/genera living in different habitats. Habitat type played an influential role in the diversity patterns of aquatic nematodes from taxonomic and functional points of view. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)
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Open AccessArticle
An Introduction to the Study of Gastrotricha, with a Taxonomic Key to Families and Genera of the Group
Diversity 2019, 11(7), 117; https://doi.org/10.3390/d11070117 - 23 Jul 2019
Cited by 8
Abstract
Gastrotricha is a group of meiofaunal-sized, free-living invertebrates present in all aquatic ecosystems. The phylum includes over 860 species globally, of which 505 nominal species have been recorded in marine sandy sediments; another 355 taxa inhabit the freshwater environments, where they are recurrent [...] Read more.
Gastrotricha is a group of meiofaunal-sized, free-living invertebrates present in all aquatic ecosystems. The phylum includes over 860 species globally, of which 505 nominal species have been recorded in marine sandy sediments; another 355 taxa inhabit the freshwater environments, where they are recurrent members of the periphyton and epibenthos, and, to a lesser degree, of the plankton and interstitial fauna. Gastrotrichs are part of the permanent meiofauna and, in general, they rank among the top five groups for abundance within meiobenthic assemblages. The diversity, abundance, and ubiquity of Gastrotricha allow us to suppose an important role for these animals in aquatic ecosystems; however, ecological studies to prove this idea have been comparatively very few. This is mainly because the small size and transparency of their bodies make gastrotrichs difficult to discover in benthic samples; moreover, their contractility and fragility make their handling and morphological survey of the specimens rather difficult. Here we offer an overview, describe the basic techniques used to study these animals, and provide a key to known genera in an attempt to promote easy identification and to increase the number of researchers who may be interested in conducting studies on this understudied ecological group of microscopic organisms. Full article
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Meiofauna Biodiversity and Ecology)
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