Metabarcoding reveals changes in benthic eukaryote and prokaryote community composition along a tropical marine sediment nickel gradient

Megan L. Gillmore, Lisa A. Golding, Anthony A. Chariton, Jenny L. Stauber, Sarah Stephenson, Francesca Gissi, Paul Greenfield, Farid Juillot, Dianne F. Jolley

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The Southeast Asia and Melanesia region has extensive nickel (Ni)-rich lateritic regoliths formed from the tropical weathering of ultramafic rocks. As the global demand for Ni continues to rise, these lateritic regoliths are increasingly being exploited for their economic benefit. Mining of these regoliths contributes to the enrichment of coastal sediments in trace metals, especially Ni. The present study used high-throughput sequencing (metabarcoding) to determine changes in eukaryote (18s v7 recombinant DNA [rDNA] and diatom-specific subregion of the 18s v4 rDNA) and prokaryote (16s v4 rDNA) community compositions along a sediment Ni concentration gradient offshore from a large lateritized ultramafic regolith in New Caledonia (Vavouto Bay). Significant changes in the eukaryote, diatom, and prokaryote community compositions were found along the Ni concentration gradient. These changes correlated most with the dilute-acid extractable concentration of Ni in the sediments, which explained 26, 23, and 19% of the variation for eukaryote, diatom, and prokaryote community compositions, respectively. Univariate analyses showed that there was no consistent change in indices of biodiversity, evenness, or richness. Diatom richness and diversity did, however, decrease as sediment acid extractable-Ni concentrations increased. Threshold indicator taxa analysis was conducted separately for each of the 3 targeted genes to detect changes in taxa whose occurrences decreased or increased along the acid extractable-Ni concentration gradient. Based on these data, 46 mg acid extractable-Ni/kg was determined as a threshold value where sensitive species began to disappear. In the case of the estuarine sediments offshore from lateritized ultramafic regolith in New Caledonia, this is recommended as an interim threshold value until further lines of evidence can contribute to a region-specific Ni sediment quality guideline value.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Toxicology and Chemistry
Early online date13 May 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 May 2021


  • Marine sediments
  • Metals
  • New Caledonia
  • Nickel mining
  • Tropical ecotoxicology
  • Vavouto Bay


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