DNA metabarcoding provides insights into the diverse diet of a dominant suspension feeder, the giant plumose anemone Metridium farcimen

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Environmental DNA








Benthic suspension feeders have significant impacts on plankton communities by depleting plankton or modifying the composition of the plankton through prey selectivity. Quantifying diets of planktivorous animals can be difficult because plankton are frequently microscopic, may lack diagnostic characters, and are digested at variable rates. With DNA metabarcoding, the identification of gut contents has become faster and more accurate, and the technique allows for higher taxonomic resolution while also identifying rare and highly degraded items that would otherwise not be detected. We used DNA metabarcoding to examine the diet of the giant plumose anemone Metridium farcimen, a large, abundant, competitively dominant anemone on subtidal rock surfaces and floating docks in the northeast Pacific Ocean. Gut contents of 12 individuals were compared to 80- and 330-µm filtered plankton samples collected one hour prior between 0.02 and 1.5 km from the anemones. The objectives of this study were to determine if M. farcimen has a selective diet and compare our findings with traditional gut content analyses. Metabarcoding demonstrated that M. farcimen captured a wider range of prey than previously suspected using traditional visual sampling techniques. Individual gut contents had less richness than the 80-µm filtered plankton samples but had greater richness than the 330-µm filtered plankton samples. The diet of the anemones was 52% arthropods with a surprisingly high relative abundance of an ant (10%) that has mating flights in August when this study was conducted. The gut contents of M. farcimen likely include all prey that elicit a predation response and that cannot escape. There were no statistically overrepresented taxa in the gut contents compared to the plankton but there were underrepresented taxa. This study highlights the usefulness of the metabarcoding method in identifying prey within the gut of planktivorous animals and the significant terrestrial input into marine food webs.