Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding of marine sediments has revealed large amounts of sequences assigned to planktonic taxa. How this planktonic eDNA is delivered on the seafloor and preserved in the sediment is not well understood. We address these questions by comparing metabarcoding and microfossil foraminifera assemblages in sediment cores taken off Newfoundland across a strong ecological gradient. We detected planktonic foraminifera eDNA down to 30 cm and observed that the planktonic/benthic amplicon ratio changed with depth. The relative proportion of planktonic foraminiferal amplicons remained low from the surface down to 10 cm, likely due to the presence of DNA from living benthic foraminifera. Below 10 cm, the relative proportion of planktonic foraminifera amplicons rocketed, likely reflecting the higher proportion of planktonic eDNA in the DNA burial flux. In addition, the microfossil and metabarcoding assemblages showed a congruent pattern indicating that planktonic foraminifera eDNA is deposited without substantial lateral advection and preserves regional biogeographical patterns, indicating deposition by a similar mechanism as the foraminiferal shells. Our study shows that the planktonic eDNA preserved in marine sediments has the potential to record climatic and biotic changes in the pelagic community with the same spatial and temporal resolution as microfossils.
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