Assessing the environmental impact of salmon farms on benthic systems is traditionally undertaken using biotic indices derived from microscopic analyses of macrobenthic infaunal (MI) communities. In this study, we tested the applicability of using foraminiferal-specific high-throughput sequencing (HTS) metabarcoding for monitoring these habitats. Sediment samples and physico-chemical data were collected along an enrichment gradient radiating out from three Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) farms in New Zealand. HTS of environmental DNA and RNA (eDNA/eRNA) resulted in 1,875,300 sequences that clustered into 349 Operational Taxonomic Units. Strong correlations were observed among various biotic indices calculated from MI data and normalized fourth-root transformed HTS data. Correlations were stronger using eRNA compared to eDNA data. Quantile regression spline analyses identified 12 key foraminiferal taxa that have potential to be used as bioindicator species. This study demonstrates the huge potential for using this method for biomonitoring of fish-farming and other marine industrial activities.
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