Ciliates are powerful indicators for monitoring the impact of aquaculture and other industrial activities in the marine environment. Here we tested the efficiency of four different genetic markers (V4 and V9 regions of the SSU rRNA gene, D1 and D2 regions of the LSU rRNA gene, obtained from environmental (e)DNA and environmental (e)RNA) of benthic ciliate communities for environmental monitoring. We obtained these genetic metabarcodes from sediment samples collected along a transect extending from below salmon cages towards the open sea. These data were compared to benchmark data from traditional macrofauna surveys of the same samples. In beta-diversity analyses of ciliate community structures, the V4 and V9 markers had a higher resolution power for sampling sites with different degrees of organic enrichment compared to the D1 and D2 markers. The eDNA and eRNA V4 markers had a higher discriminatory power than the V9 markers. However, results obtained with the eDNA V9 marker corroborated better with the traditional macrofauna monitoring. This allows for a more direct comparison of ciliate metabarcoding with the traditional monitoring. We conclude that the ciliate eDNA V9 marker is the best choice for implementation in routine monitoring programs in marine aquaculture. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.
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