Protist taxonomic and functional diversity in soil, freshwater and marine ecosystems

David Singer, Christophe V.W. Seppey, Guillaume Lentendu, Micah Dunthorn, David Bass, Lassâad Belbahri, Quentin Blandenier, Didier Debroas, G.A. De Groot, Colomban De Vargas, Isabelle Domaizon, Clément Duckert, Irina Izaguirre, Isabelle Koenig, Gabriela Mataloni, M.R. Schiaffino, Edward A.D. Mitchell, Stefan Geisen, Enrique Lara

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Protists dominate eukaryotic diversity and play key functional roles in all ecosystems, particularly by catalyzing carbon and nutrient cycling. To date, however, a comparative analysis of their taxonomic and functional diversity that compares the major ecosystems on Earth (soil, freshwater and marine systems) is missing. Here, we present a comparison of protist diversity based on standardized high throughput 18S rRNA gene sequencing of soil, freshwater and marine environmental DNA. Soil and freshwater protist communities were more similar to each other than to marine protist communities, with virtually no overlap of Operational Taxonomic Units (OTUs) between terrestrial and marine habitats. Soil protists showed higher γ diversity than aquatic samples. Differences in taxonomic composition of the communities led to changes in a functional diversity among ecosystems, as expressed in relative abundance of consumers, phototrophs and parasites. Phototrophs (eukaryotic algae) dominated freshwater systems (49% of the sequences) and consumers soil and marine ecosystems (59% and 48%, respectively). The individual functional groups were composed of ecosystem- specific taxonomic groups. Parasites were equally common in all ecosystems, yet, terrestrial systems hosted more OTUs assigned to parasites of macro-organisms while aquatic systems contained mostly microbial parasitoids. Together, we show biogeographic patterns of protist diversity across major ecosystems on Earth, preparing the way for more focused studies that will help understanding the multiple roles of protists in the biosphere.
Original languageEnglish
Article number106262
JournalEnvironment International
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2021

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