Copepods harbor diverse bacterial communities, which collectively carry out key biogeochemical transformations in the ocean. However, bulk copepod sampling averages over the variability in their associated bacterial communities, thereby limiting our understanding of the nature and specificity of copepod-bacteria associations. Here, we characterize the bacterial communities associated with nearly 200 individual Calanus finmarchicus copepods transitioning from active growth to diapause. We find that all individual copepods sampled share a small set of "core" operational taxonomic units (OTUs), a subset of which have also been found associated with other marine copepod species in different geographic locations. However, most OTUs are patchily distributed across individual copepods, thereby driving community differences across individuals. Among patchily distributed OTUs, we identified groups of OTUs correlated with common ecological drivers. For instance, a group of OTUs positively correlated with recent copepod feeding served to differentiate largely active growing copepods from those entering diapause. Together, our results underscore the power of individual-level sampling for understanding host-microbiome relationships.
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