Biodiversity information from Antarctic terrestrial habitats helps conservation efforts, but the distribution and diversity particularly of microinvertebrates remains poorly understood. Springtails, mites, tardigrades, nematodes and rotifers are difficult to identify using morphological features, hence DNA-based metabarcoding methods are well suited for their study. We compared taxonomy assignments of a high throughput sequencing metabarcoding approach using one ribosomal DNA (18S rDNA) and one mitochondrial DNA (cytochrome c oxidase subunit I - COI) marker with morphological reference data. Specifically, we compared metabarcoding or morphological taxonomic assignments on multiple taxonomic levels in an artificial DNA blend containing Australian invertebrates, and in seven extracts of Antarctic soils containing known micro-faunal taxa. Avoiding arbitrary application of metabarcoding analysis parameters, we calibrated those parameters with metabarcoding data from non-Antarctic soils. Metabarcoding approaches employing 18S rDNA and COI markers enabled detection of small and cryptic Antarctic invertebrates, and on low taxonomic ranks 18S data outperformed COI data in this respect. Morphological taxonomy determination did not outperform metabarcoding approaches. Our study demonstrates how barcoding markers can be tested prior to their application to specific taxonomic groups, and that taxonomy fidelity of markers needs to be validated in relation to environment, taxa, and available reference information.
environmental DNA, metataxonomic, mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase I, COI, 18S rDNA, Illumina, 454, biodiversity survey