Marine plankton support global biological and geochemical processes. Surveys of their biodiversity have hitherto been geographically restricted and have not accounted for the full range of plankton size. We assessed eukaryotic diversity from 334 size-fractionated photic-zone plankton communities collected across tropical and temperate oceans during the circumglobal Tara Oceans expedition. We analyzed 18S ribosomal DNA sequences across the intermediate plankton-size spectrum from the smallest unicellular eukaryotes (protists, >0.8 micrometers) to small animals of a few millimeters. Eukaryotic ribosomal diversity saturated at ~150,000 operational taxonomic units, about one-third of which could not be assigned to known eukaryotic groups. Diversity emerged at all taxonomic levels, both within the groups comprising the ~11,200 cataloged morphospecies of eukaryotic plankton and among twice as many other deep-branching lineages of unappreciated importance in plankton ecology studies. Most eukaryotic plankton biodiversity belonged to heterotrophic protistan groups, particularly those known to be parasites or symbiotic hosts.
Copyright © 2015, American Association for the Advancement of Science.