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Invertebr Biol. 2014 Jun 1;133(2):121-127.

Diagnostic PCR can be used to illuminate meiofaunal diets and trophic relationships.

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  • 1South Carolina Governor's School for Science and Mathematics, Hartsville, South Carolina 29550, USA.
  • 2Department of Biology, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, South Carolina 29733, USA.
  • 3Department of Natural Resources and the Environment, University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire 03824, USA.
  • 4Institute of Marine Sciences, University of North Carolina, Morehead City, North Carolina 28557, USA.


Analysis of the meiofaunal food web is hampered because few prey have features that persist long enough in a predator's digestive tract to allow identification to species. Hence, at least for platyhelminth predators, direct observations of prey preference are almost nonexistent, and where they occur, prey identification is often limited to phylum. Studies using an in vitro approach are rare because they are extremely time-consuming and are subject to the criticism that predators removed from their natural environment may exhibit altered behaviors. Although PCR-based approaches have achieved wide application in food-web analysis, their application to meiofaunal flatworms suffers from a number of limitations. Most importantly, the microscopic size of both the predator and prey does not allow for removal of prey material from the digestive tract of the predator, and thus the challenge is to amplify prey sequences in the presence of large quantities of predator sequence. Here, we report on the successful use of prey-taxon-specific primers in diagnostic PCR to identify, to species level, specific prey items of 13 species of meiofaunal flatworms. Extension of this method will allow, for the first time, the development of a species-level understanding of trophic interactions among the meiofauna.


diet analysis; flatworms; food webs; nematodes; predation

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