Marine Biodiversity

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 13–28 | Cite as

The pan-Arctic biodiversity of marine pelagic and sea-ice unicellular eukaryotes: a first-attempt assessment

  • Michel PoulinEmail author
  • Niels Daugbjerg
  • Rolf Gradinger
  • Ludmila Ilyash
  • Tatiana Ratkova
  • Cecilie von Quillfeldt
Arctic Ocean Diversity Synthesis


Arctic marine unicellular eukaryotes are composed of microalgae and non-autotrophic protists. These eukaryotes comprise a well-diversified group of organisms that are either adapted to live in the upper water column of coastal and oceanic regions, here defined as phytoplankton/pelagic communities, or in bottom horizons of sea ice and known as sympagic/sea-ice-associated communities. There are approximately 5,000 recognized legitimate marine phytoplankton species and an unknown number of sympagic eukaryotes. Although pelagic and sea-ice eukaryotes have been described since the exploration phase of the Arctic regions up to the early twentieth century, no synthesis regarding information from all Arctic seas have been undertaken, and no exhaustive current information provides the exact number and composition of species on a pan-Arctic scale. In a first attempt to assess the pan-Arctic diversity of pelagic and sea-ice eukaryotes, a wealth of data from various sources (e.g., scientific publications, unpublished reports, databases) were reviewed, while taxonomic data were confirmed with current nomenclature and classification. We report a total of 2,106 marine single-celled eukaryote taxa with 1,874 phytoplankton and 1,027 sympagic taxa from four grouped pan-Arctic regions, namely Alaska, Canada, Scandinavia including Greenland and the Russian Federation. Both phytoplankton and sympagic taxa were present in four of the six super-groups of eukaryotes described by Adl et al. (J Eukaryot Microbiol 52:399-451, 2005), which are Archaeplastida (chlorophytes and prasinophytes), Chromalveolata (e.g., chrysophytes, cryptophytes, diatoms, dictyochophytes, dinoflagellates and prymnesiophytes), Excavata (euglenids) and Opisthokonta (choanoflagellates). The bulk of this marine biodiversity of Arctic microorganisms consists of large cells (>20 μm) mainly due to examination at low magnification under light microscopy. Future efforts should focus enhancing our knowledge of the biological diversity of small cells (<20 μm), which represent less than 20% of our actual biodiversity assessment of pan-Arctic regions.


Arctic Biodiversity Pelagic Sea ice Unicellular eukaryotes 



We acknowledge the Arctic Marine Ecosystem Research Network (ARCTOS) and the Arctic Ocean Diversity Census of Marine Life (ArcOD) who sponsored and facilitated the 4th Arctic Frontiers conference, session III on marine biodiversity, and this special issue, as well as made possible both M.P. and T.R. to attend the conference in Tromsø, Norway. We thank the Canadian Museum of Nature for funding support to M.P. and the Villum Kann Rasmussen and the Carlsberg Foundations for research grants to N.D. The Alaska data compilation was supported through an award from the National Science Foundation (award number 0732767). The work on the sea ice from the White Sea was supported by the Russian Federation of the Basic Research (RFBR) no. 10-05-00063-a. Finally, we thank I.N. Sukhanova and L.S. Zhitina for providing some personal unpublished data. A special thank to M.-H. Hubert at the Canadian Museum of Nature for electronically archiving and managing the various data sets from the four main pan-Arctic countries. Arctic maps originate from UNEP/GRID-Arendal Maps and Graphics Library (2008) available at: (accessed 9 July, 2010).


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Copyright information

© Senckenberg, Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Springer 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michel Poulin
    • 1
    Email author
  • Niels Daugbjerg
    • 2
  • Rolf Gradinger
    • 3
  • Ludmila Ilyash
    • 4
  • Tatiana Ratkova
    • 5
  • Cecilie von Quillfeldt
    • 6
  1. 1.Research DivisionCanadian Museum of NatureOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Department of BiologyUniversity of CopenhagenCopenhagen KDenmark
  3. 3.School of Fisheries and Ocean SciencesUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA
  4. 4.Lomonosov Moscow State UniversityMoscowRussian Federation
  5. 5.Russian Academy of Sciences, P.P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology RASMoscowRussian Federation
  6. 6.Norwegian Polar InstituteLongyearbyenNorway

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