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Understudied, underrepresented, and unknown: Methodological biases that limit detection of early diverging fungi from environmental samples.


Metabarcoding is an important tool for understanding fungal communities. The internal transcribed spacer (ITS) rDNA is the accepted fungal barcode but has known problems. The large subunit (LSU) rDNA has also been used to investigate fungal communities but available LSU metabarcoding primers were mostly designed to target Dikarya (Ascomycota + Basidiomycota) with little attention to early diverging fungi (EDF). However, evidence from multiple studies suggests that EDF comprise a large portion of unknown diversity in community sampling. Here, we investigate how DNA marker choice and methodological biases impact recovery of EDF from environmental samples. We focused on one EDF lineage, Zoopagomycota, as an example. We evaluated three primer sets (ITS1F/ITS2, LROR/LR3, and LR3 paired with new primer LR22F) to amplify and sequence a Zoopagomycota mock community and a set of 146 environmental samples with Illumina MiSeq. We compared two taxonomy assignment methods and created an LSU reference database compatible with AMPtk software. The two taxonomy assignment methods recovered strikingly different communities of fungi and EDF. Target fragment length variation exacerbated PCR amplification biases and influenced downstream taxonomic assignments, but this effect was greater for EDF than Dikarya. To improve identification of LSU amplicons we performed phylogenetic reconstruction and illustrate the advantages of this critical tool for investigating identified and unidentified sequences. Our results suggest much of the EDF community may be missed or misidentified with "standard" metabarcoding approaches and modified techniques are needed to understand the role of these taxa in a broader ecological context.

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