Original Paper

Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 393-405

First online:

The diversity and distribution of diatoms: from cosmopolitanism to narrow endemism

  • Pieter VanormelingenAffiliated withLaboratory Protistology & Aquatic Ecology, Gent University
  • , Elie VerleyenAffiliated withLaboratory Protistology & Aquatic Ecology, Gent University
  • , Wim VyvermanAffiliated withLaboratory Protistology & Aquatic Ecology, Gent University Email author 

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It has been claimed that microbial taxa will not exhibit endemism because their enormous populations remove dispersal as an effective constraint on geographical range. Here we review evidence that challenges this ubiquity hypothesis for the most speciose group of microbial eukaryotes, the diatoms. Detailed taxonomic inventories using fine-grained morphological characteristics, molecular markers, and crossing experiments have revealed that the geographic distribution of diatoms ranges from global to narrow endemic. Records of human-mediated introductions of exotic species further provide a strong indication that geographic dispersal was limiting in the past. Finally, recent studies have revealed that diatom community structure and diversity are influenced by geographical factors independent of environmental conditions. Diatom communities are thus regulated by the same processes that operate in macro-organisms, although possibly to a different degree, implying that dispersal limitation is significant and the endemism observed in isolated areas is real. These results underscore the pressing need to (1) continue research into diatom biology, ecology and the factors driving diatom species diversity and geographic distributions, and (2) protect relatively isolated areas against further introductions of exotic species.


Biogeography Diatoms Dispersal Diversity Endemism Macroecology Microorganisms Ubiquity hypothesis