The present study aims to characterize the benthic eukaryotic biodiversity patterns at a coarse taxonomic level in three areas of the central Red Sea (a lagoon, an offshore area in Thuwal and a shallow coastal area near Jeddah) based on extracellular DNA. High-throughput amplicon sequencing targeting the V9 region of the 18S rRNA gene was undertaken for 32 sediment samples. High levels of alpha-diversity were detected with 16,089 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) being identified. The majority of the OTUs were assigned to Metazoa (29.2%), Alveolata (22.4%) and Stramenopiles (17.8%). Stramenopiles (Diatomea) and Alveolata (Ciliophora) were frequent in a lagoon and in shallower coastal stations, whereas metazoans (Arthropoda: Maxillopoda) were dominant in deeper offshore stations. Only 24.6% of total OTUs were shared among all areas. Beta-diversity was generally lower between the lagoon and Jeddah (nearshore) than between either of those and the offshore area, suggesting a nearshore–offshore biodiversity gradient. The current approach allowed for a broad-range of benthic eukaryotic biodiversity to be analysed with significantly less labour than would be required by other traditional taxonomic approaches. Our findings suggest that next generation sequencing techniques have the potential to provide a fast and standardised screening of benthic biodiversity at large spatial and temporal scales.
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