High-throughput sequencing outperforms traditional morphological methods in Blue Catfish diet analysis and reveals novel insights into diet ecology


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Blue Catfish Ictalurus furcatus are an invasive, yet economically important species in the Chesapeake Bay. However, their impact on the trophic ecology of this system is not well understood. In order to provide in-depth analysis of predation by Blue Catfish, we identified prey items using high-throughput DNA sequencing (HTS) of entire gastrointestinal tracts from 134 samples using two genetic markers, mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase I (COI) and the nuclear 18S ribosomal RNA gene. We compared our HTS results to a more traditional "hybrid" approach that coupled morphological identification with DNA barcoding. The hybrid study was conducted on additional Blue Catfish samples (n = 617 stomachs) collected from the same location and season in the previous year. Taxonomic representation with HTS vastly surpassed that achieved with the hybrid methodology in Blue Catfish. Significantly, our HTS study identified several instances of at-risk and invasive species consumption not identified using the hybrid method, supporting the hypothesis that previous studies using morphological methods may greatly underestimate consumption of critical species. Finally, we report the novel finding that Blue Catfish diet diversity inversely correlates to daily flow rates, perhaps due to higher mobility and prey-seeking behaviors exhibited during lower flow.



at&#8208, risk species, Blue Catfish, diet, flow rate, high&#8208, throughput sequencing, metabarcoding