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Living apart-together: microhabitat differentiation of cryptic nematode species in a saltmarsh habitat
Guden, R.M.; Vafeiadou, A.-M.; De Meester, N.; Derycke, S.; Moens, T. (2018). Living apart-together: microhabitat differentiation of cryptic nematode species in a saltmarsh habitat. PLoS One 13(9): e0204750.
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Guden, R.M., meer
  • Vafeiadou, A.-M., meer
  • De Meester, N., meer

    Coexistence of highly similar species is at odds with ecological theory of competition; coexistence, then, requires stabilizing mechanisms such as differences in ecological niche. In the bacterivore nematode Litoditis marina species complex, which occurs associated with macro-algae, four cryptic lineages (Pm I-IV) co-occur in the field along the south-western coast and estuaries of The Netherlands. Here we investigate the temporal and/or spatial niche differentiation in their natural environment using a qPCR-based detection and relative quantification method. We collected different algal species (i.e. two Fucus species and Ulva sp.) and separated algal structures (i.e. receptacula, thalli, non-fertile tips and bladders) at different sampling months and times (i.e. twice per sampling month), to examine differences in microhabitat use between coexisting L. marina species. Results demonstrate that the cryptic species composition varied among different algal species and algal structures, which was also subject to temporal shifts. Pm I dominated on Fucus spp., Pm II showed dominance on Ulva sp., while Pm III overall had the lowest frequencies. Microhabitat partitioning was most pronounced between the two cryptic species which had similar microbiomes (Pm I and Pm II), and less so between the two species which had significantly different microbiomes (Pm I and Pm III), suggesting that species which share the same microhabitats may avoid competition through resource partitioning. The interplay of microhabitat differentiation and temporal dynamics among the cryptic species of L. marina implies that there is a complex interaction between biotic components and abiotic factors which contributes to their coexistence in the field.

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