Extensive morphological variability in asexually produced planktic foraminifera

Sci Adv. 2020 Jul 10;6(28):eabb8930. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.abb8930. Print 2020 Jul.


Marine protists are integral to the structure and function of pelagic ecosystems and marine carbon cycling, with rhizarian biomass alone accounting for more than half of all mesozooplankton in the oligotrophic oceans. Yet, understanding how their environment shapes diversity within species and across taxa is limited by a paucity of observations of heritability and life history. Here, we present observations of asexual reproduction, morphologic plasticity, and ontogeny in the planktic foraminifer Neogloboquadrina pachyderma in laboratory culture. Our results demonstrate that planktic foraminifera reproduce both sexually and asexually and demonstrate extensive phenotypic plasticity in response to nonheritable factors. These two processes fundamentally explain the rapid spatial and temporal response of even imperceptibly low populations of planktic foraminifera to optimal conditions and the diversity and ubiquity of these species across the range of environmental conditions that occur in the ocean.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't