Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 393–405 | Cite as

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

  • Pieter Vanormelingen
  • Elie Verleyen
  • Wim Vyverman
Original Paper


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 



Part of the research presented in this review was financed by the Belgian Science Policy Office, the Fund for Scientific Research-Flanders and the Institute for the promotion of Innovation by Science and Technology in Flanders. Elie Verleyen is postdoctoral scientist with the Fund for Scientific Research. We thank Koen Sabbe for many valuable discussions, Wilhelm Foissner and an anonymous referee for their comments on an earlier version of the manuscript, and Bart Van de Vijver for kindly providing Stauroneis photographs.


  1. Amato A, Kooistra WHCF, Levialdi Ghiron JH et al (2007) Reproductive isolation among sympatric cryptic species in marine diatoms. Protist 158:193–207PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Baas-Becking LGM (1934) Geobiologie of inleiding tot de milieukunde. Van Stockum and Zoon, The HagueGoogle Scholar
  3. Behnke A, Friedl T, Chepurnov VA et al (2004) Reproductive compatibility and rDNA sequence analyses in the Sellaphora pupula species complex (Bacillariophyta). J Phycol 40:193–208CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bell T, Ager D, Song J-I et al (2005) Larger islands house more bacterial taxa. Science 308:1884PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Beszteri B, Ács É, Medlin LK (2005) Ribosomal DNA sequence variation among sympatric strains of the Cyclotella meneghiniana complex (Bacillariophyceae) reveals cryptic diversity. Protist 156:317–333PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bonnet E, Van de Peer Y (2002) zt: a software tool for simple and partial mantle tests. J Stat Softw 7(10):1–12. Available at Google Scholar
  7. Borcard D, Legendre P, Drapeau P (1992) Partialling out the spatial component of ecological variation. Ecology 73:1045–1055CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Camburn KEJ, Kingston JC, Charles DE (1984–1986) PIRLA diatom iconograph. PIRLA Unpublished Report Series No 3. Department of Biology, Indiana University, BloomingtonGoogle Scholar
  9. Casteleyn G, Chepurnov VA, Leliaert F et al (2007) Pseudo-Nitzschia pungens (Bacillariophyceae): a cosmopolitan diatom species? Harmful Algae. doi: 10.1016/j.hal.2007.08.004 Google Scholar
  10. Chao A, Li PC, Agatha S et al (2006) A statistical approach to estimate soil ciliate diversity and distribution based on data from five continents. Oikos 114:479–493CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Chepurnov VA, Mann DG, Sabbe K et al (2004) Experimental studies on sexual reproduction in diatoms. Int Rev Cytol 237:91–154PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Coste M, Ector L (2000) Diatomées invasives exotiques ou rares en France: principales observations effectuées au cours des dernières décennies. Syst Geogr Plants 70:373–400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cox EJ (1995) Morphological variation in widely distributed diatom taxa: taxonomic and ecological implications. In: Donato M, Montresor M (eds) Proceedings of the 13th international diatom symposium. Biopress, Bristol, pp 335–345Google Scholar
  14. Cox CB, Moore PD (2005) Biogeography—an ecological and evolutionary approach. 7th edn. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  15. Créach V, Ernst A, Sabbe K et al (2006) Using quantitative PCR to determine the distribution of a semicryptic benthic diatom, Navicula phyllepta (Bacillariophyta). J Phycol 42:1142–1154CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Darling KF, Kucera M, Pudsey CJ et al (2004) Molecular evidence links cryptic diversification in polar planktonic protists to Quaternary climate dynamics. PNAS 101:7657–7662PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Darling KF, Kucera M, Wade CM (2007) Global molecular phylogeography reveals persistent Arctic circumpolar isolation in a marine planktonic protist. PNAS 104:5002–5007PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Edlund MB, Taylor CM, Schelske CL et al (2000) Thalassiosira baltica (Grunow) Ostenfeld (Bacillariophyta), a new exotic species in the Great Lakes. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 57:610–615CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Edwards M, John AWG, Johns DG et al (2001) Case history and persistence of the non-indigenous diatom Coscinodiscus wailesii in the north-east Atlantic. J Mar Biol Ass UK 81:207–211Google Scholar
  20. Esposito RMM, Horn SL, McKnight DM et al (2006) Antarctic climate cooling and response of diatoms in glacial meltwater streams. Geophys Res Lett 33, Art. No. LO7406Google Scholar
  21. Evans KM, Kuhn SF, Hayes PK (2005) High levels of genetic diversity and low levels of genetic differentiation in North Sea Pseudo-Nitzschia pungens (Bacillariophyceae) populations. J Phycol 41:506–514CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fenchel T, Finlay BJ (2004) The ubiquity of small species: patterns of local and global diversity. Bioscience 54:777–784CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Finlay BJ (2002) Global dispersal of free-living microbial eukaryote species. Science 296:1061–1063PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Finlay BJ, Clarke KJ (1999) Ubiquitous dispersal of microbial species. Nature 400:828CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Finlay BJ, Fenchel T (2004) Cosmopolitan metapopulations of free-living microbial eukaryotes. Protist 155:237–244PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Finlay BJ, Monaghan EB, Maberly SC (2002) Hypothesis: the rate and scale of dispersal of freshwater diatom species is a function of their global abundance. Protist 153:261–273PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Flower RJ (2005) A taxonomic and ecological study of diatoms from freshwater habitats in the Falkland Islands, South Atlantic. Diatom Res 20:23–96Google Scholar
  28. Foissner W (2006) Biogeography and dispersal of micro-organisms: a review emphasizing protists. Acta Protozool 45:111–136Google Scholar
  29. Fourtanier E, Kociolek JP (2003) Catalogue of the diatom genera (vol 14, pg 190, 1999). Diatom Res 18:245–258Google Scholar
  30. Godhe A, McQuoid MR, Karunasagar I et al (2006) Comparison of three common molecular tools for distinguishing among geographically separated clones of the diatom Skeletonema marinoi Sarno et Zingone (Bacillariophyceae). J Phycol 42:280–291CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Green J, Bohannan JM (2006) Spatial scaling of microbial diversity. TREE 21:501–507PubMedGoogle Scholar
  32. Green JL, Holmes AJ, Westoby M et al (2004) Spatial scaling of microbial eukaryote diversity. Nature 432:747–750PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Harper MA (1994) Did Europeans introduce Asterionella formosa Hassall to New Zealand? In: Kociolek JP (ed) Proceedings of the 11th International Diatom Symposium 1990. California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, pp 479–484Google Scholar
  34. Hasle GR (1976) The biogeography of some marine planktonic diatoms. Deep-Sea Res 23:319–338Google Scholar
  35. Hasle GR (2001) The marine, planktonic diatom family Thalassionemataceae: morphology, taxonomy and distribution. Diatom Res 16:1–82Google Scholar
  36. Havel JE, Shurin JB (2004) Mechanisms, effects, and scales of dispersal in freshwater zooplankton. Limnol Oceanogr 49:1229–1238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Hustedt F (1927–1966) Die Kieselalgen Deutschlands, Österreichs und der Schweiz. In: Rabenhorst L (ed) Kryptogamen-Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz, Bd. 7(2). Akad Verlagsges, LeipzigGoogle Scholar
  38. Kilroy C, Sabbe K, Bergey EA et al (2003) New species of Fragilariforma (Bacillariophyceae) from New Zealand and Australia. New Zeal J Bot 41:535–554Google Scholar
  39. Kilroy C, Biggs BJ, Vieglais CC (2007) Didymosphenia geminata in New Zealand: a science response to help manage an unwanted, invasive freshwater diatom. In: Abstract book, ASLO Aquatic Sciences meeting. Santa Fe (New Mexico), 4–9/02/2007Google Scholar
  40. Kociolek JP, Kingston JC (1999) Taxonomy, ultrastructure, and distribution of some gomphonemoid diatoms (Bacillariophyceae: Gomphonemataceae) from rivers in the United States. Can J Bot 77:686–705CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kociolek JP, Spaulding SA (2000) Freshwater diatom biogeography. Nova Hedwigia 71:223–241Google Scholar
  42. Kociolek JP, Spaulding SA, Sabbe K et al (2004) New Gomphonema (Bacillariophyta) species from Tasmania. Phycologia 43:427–444CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Krammer K, Lange-Bertalot H (1986–1991) Bacillariophyceae. In: Ettl H, Gerloff, J, Heynig H, Mollenhauer D (eds) Süßwasserflora von Mitteleuropa, vol. 2(1), 876 pp (1986), vol. 2(2), 596 pp (1988), vol. 2(3), 576 pp (1991), vol. 2(4), 437 pp (1991). Fischer, Stuttgart/JenaGoogle Scholar
  44. Krasske G (1939) Zur Kieselalgenflora Südchiles. Arch Hydrobiol 35:349–468Google Scholar
  45. Kristiansen J (1996) Dispersal of freshwater algae—a review. Hydrobiologia 336:151–157Google Scholar
  46. Lee WJ, Patterson DJ ( 2000) Heterotrophic flagellates (Protista) from marine sediments of Botany Bay, Australia. J Nat Hist 34:483–562CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Leibold MA, Holyoak M, Mouquet N et al (2004) The metacommunity concept: a framework for multiple-scale community ecology. Ecol Lett 7:601–613CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lundholm N, Moestrup Ø, Kotaki Y et al (2006) Inter- and intraspecific variation of the Pseudo-Nitzschia delicatissima complex (Bacillariophyceae), illustrated by rRNA probes, morphological data and phylogenetic analysis. J Phycol 42:464–481CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Mann DG (1999) The species concept in diatoms. Phycologia 38:437–495CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Mann DG, Droop SJM (1996) Biodiversity, biogeography and conservation of diatoms. Hydrobiologia 336:19–32Google Scholar
  51. Martiny JBH, Bohannan BJM, Brown JH et al (2006) Microbial biogeography: putting microorganisms on the map. Nat Rev Biogeogr 4:102–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Maynard NG (1968) Significance of air-borne algae. Z allg Microbiol 8:225–226CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ostenfeld CH (1908) On the immigration of Biddulphia sinensis Grev. and its occurrence in the North Sea during 1903–1907. Meddelelser fra Kommissionen for Havundersogelser, Plankton 1(6):1–25Google Scholar
  54. Papke RT, Ramsing NB, Bateson MM et al (2003) Geographical isolation in hot spring cyanobacteria. Environ Microbiol 5:650–659PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Potapova MG, Charles DFC (2002) Benthic diatoms in USA rivers: distributions along spatial and environmental gradients. J Biogeogr 29:167–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Poulíčková A, Mann DG (2006) Sexual reproduction in Navicula cryptocephala (Bacillariophyceae). J Phycol 42:872–886CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Proctor VW (1959) Dispersal of freshwater algae by migratory waterbirds. Science 130:623–624PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Reche I, Pulido-Villena E, Morales-Baquero R et al (2005) Does ecosystem size determine aquatic bacterial richness? Ecology 86:1715–1722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Ricklefs RE (1987) Community diversity: relative roles of local and regional processes. Science 235:167–171PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Round FE, Crawford RM, Mann DG (1990) Diatoms: biology and morphology of the genera. Cambridge Univ. Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  61. Roy-Ocotla G, Carrera J (1993) Aeroalgae: responses to some aerobiological questions. Grana 32:48–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rumrich U, Lange-Bertalot H, Rumrich M (2000) Diatoms of the Andes, from Venezuela to Patagonia/Tierra del Fuego, and two additional contributions. ARG Gartner Verlag KG, KönigsteinGoogle Scholar
  63. Rynearson TA, Armbrust EV (2004) Genetic differentiation among populations of the planktonic marine diatom Ditylum brightwellii. J Phycol 40:34–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Rynearson TA, Newton JA, Armbrust EV (2006) Spring bloom development, genetic variation, and population succession in the planktonic diatom Ditylum birghtwellii. Limnol Oceanogr 51:1249–1261CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Sabbe K, Vanhoutte K, Vyverman W (2000) Actinella comperei sp. nov. (Eunotiaceae, Bacillariophyta): a new endemic freshwater diatom from Tasmania (Australia). Syst Geogr Plants 70:237–243CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Sabbe K, Vanhoutte K, Lowe RL et al (2001) Six new Actinella (Bacillariophyta) species from Papua New Guinea, Australia and New Zealand: further evidence for widespread diatom endemism in the Australasian region. Eur J Phycol 36:321–340CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Sabbe K, Verleyen E, Hodgson DA et al (2003) Benthic diatom flora of freshwater and saline lakes in the Larsemann Hills and Rauer Islands, East Antarctica. Antarct Sci 15:227–248CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Sarno D, Kooistra WHCF, Medlin LK et al (2005) Diversity in the genus Skeletonema (Bacillariophyceae). II. An assessment of the taxonomy of S. costatum-like species with the description of four new species. J Phycol 41:151–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Shurin JB (2000) Dispersal limitation, invasion resistance, and the structure of pond zooplankton communities. Ecology 81:3074–3086CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Soininen J, Paavola R, Muotka T (2004) Benthic diatom communities in boreal streams: community structure in relation to environmental and spatial gradients. Ecography 27:330–342CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Spaulding SA, McKnight DM (1999) Diatoms as indicators of environmental change in Antarctic freshwaters. In: Stoermer EF, Smol JP (eds) The diatoms: applications for the environmental and earth sciences. Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, pp 245–263Google Scholar
  72. Spaulding SA, Kociolek JP, Wong D (1999) A taxonomic and systematic revision of the genus Muelleria. Phycologia 38:314–341CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Stevenson AC, Juggins S, Birks HJB et al (1991) The surface waters acidification project paleolimnology programme: modern diatom/lake-water chemistry data set. Ensis pub., LondonGoogle Scholar
  74. Syvertsen EE (1977) Thalassiosira rotula and T. gravida: ecology and morphology. Nova Hedwigia, Beih 54:99–112Google Scholar
  75. Taylor JW, Turner E, Townsend JP et al (2006) Eukaryotic microbes, species recognition and the geographic limits of species: examples from the kingdom Fungi. Philos T R Soc B 361:1947–1963CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Telford RJ, Vandvik V, Birks HJB (2006) Dispersal limitation matters for microbial morphospecies. Science 312:1015PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Trobajo R, Mann DG, Chepurnov VA et al (2006) Taxonomy, life cycle and auxosporulation of Nitzschia fonticola (Bacillariophyta). J Phycol 42:1353–1372CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Tyler PA (1996) Endemism in freshwater algae, with special reference to the Australian region. Hydrobiologia 336:127–135Google Scholar
  79. Van Dam H, Mertens A, Sinkeldam J (1994) A coded checklist and ecological indicator values of freshwater diatoms from The Netherlands. Neth J Aquat Ecol 28:117–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Van de Vijver B, Beyens L, Lange-Bertalot H (2004) The genus Stauroneis in the Arctic and (Sub-)Antarctic regions. Biblthca diatomol 51:1–317Google Scholar
  81. Van de Vijver B, Gremmen NJM, Beyens L (2005) The genus Stauroneis (Bacillariophyceae) in the Antarctic region. J Biogeogr 32:1791–1798CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Vanhoutte K, Verleyen E, Vyverman W et al (2004) The freshwater diatom genus Kobayasiella (Bacillariophyta) in Tasmania, Australia. Aust Syst Bot 17:483–496CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Vanhoutte K, Verleyen E, Sabbe K et al (2006) Congruence and disparity in benthic diatom community structure of small lakes in New Zealand and Tasmania. Mar Freshw Res 57:789–801CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Vanormelingen P, Chepurnov VA, Mann DG et al (2007) Congruence of morphological, reproductive and ITS rDNA sequence data in some Australasian Eunotia bilunaris. Eur J Phycol 42:61–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Villanueva VD, Maidana NI (1999) Diatoms (Bacillariophyta) from Pulmari lake (Nuequen, Argentina). Biologia 54:1–10Google Scholar
  86. Vyverman W, Vyverman R, Hodgson D et al (1995) Diatoms from Tasmanian mountain lakes: a reference data-set (TASDIAT) for environmental reconstruction and a systematic and autecological study. Bibl diatomol 33:1–193Google Scholar
  87. Vyverman W, Sabbe K, Vyverman R (1997) Five new freshwater species of Biremis (Bacillariophyta) from Tasmania. Phycologia 36:91–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Vyverman W, Sabbe K, Mann DG et al (1998) Eunophora gen. nov. (Bacillariophyta) from Tasmania and New Zealand: description and comparison with Eunotia and amphoroid diatoms. J Phycol 33:95–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  89. Vyverman W, Verleyen E, Sabbe K et al (2007) Historical processes constrain patterns in global diatom diversity. Ecology 88:1924–1931PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Whitaker RJ, Grogan DW, Taylor JW (2003) Geographic barriers isolate endemic populations of hyperthermophilic Archaea. Science 301:976–978PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  91. Whitfield J (2005) Biogeography: is everything everywhere? Science 310:960–961PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Willis KJ, Birks HJB (2006) What is natural? The need for a long-term perspective in biodiversity conservation. Science 314:1261–1265PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Pieter Vanormelingen
    • 1
  • Elie Verleyen
    • 1
  • Wim Vyverman
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratory Protistology & Aquatic EcologyGent UniversityGentBelgium

Personalised recommendations