Nanoplanktonic diatoms are globally overlooked but play a role in spring blooms and carbon export

Nat Commun. 2018 Mar 5;9(1):953. doi: 10.1038/s41467-018-03376-9.


Diatoms are one of the major primary producers in the ocean, responsible annually for ~20% of photosynthetically fixed CO2 on Earth. In oceanic models, they are typically represented as large (>20 µm) microphytoplankton. However, many diatoms belong to the nanophytoplankton (2-20 µm) and a few species even overlap with the picoplanktonic size-class (<2 µm). Due to their minute size and difficulty of detection they are poorly characterized. Here we describe a massive spring bloom of the smallest known diatom (Minidiscus) in the northwestern Mediterranean Sea. Analysis of Tara Oceans data, together with literature review, reveal a general oversight of the significance of these small diatoms at the global scale. We further evidence that they can reach the seafloor at high sinking rates, implying the need to revise our classical binary vision of pico- and nanoplanktonic cells fueling the microbial loop, while only microphytoplankton sustain secondary trophic levels and carbon export.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biomass
  • Carbon / metabolism*
  • Cell Count
  • Chlorophyll / metabolism
  • DNA Barcoding, Taxonomic
  • Diatoms / physiology*
  • Diatoms / ultrastructure
  • Geography
  • Geologic Sediments
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Phytoplankton / classification
  • Phytoplankton / physiology*
  • Phytoplankton / ultrastructure
  • Seasons*


  • Chlorophyll
  • Carbon