• David G. MannEmail author
  • Richard M. Crawford
  • Frank E. Round
Reference work entry


The diatoms (Bacillariophyta) are the most species-rich group of autotrophic algae, found in fresh, brackish, and marine waters worldwide, and also in damp terrestrial habitats. They are well represented in marine phytoplankton and may account for 20% of global photosynthetic carbon fixation. However, the vast majority of the estimated 100,000 species are benthic, living attached to surfaces or gliding over sediments using a unique organelle, the raphe system. Flagellate cells are absent, except in the sperm of some lineages. Diatoms possess a similar photosynthetic apparatus to that present in several other stramenopile lineages (with fucoxanthin and chlorophyll c as the principal accessory pigments) but are easily recognized by the unique construction and composition of their cell wall, which is usually strongly silicified and consists of two overlapping halves (thecae); these in turn consist of a larger end piece (valve) and a series of narrow strips (girdle bands). Expansion of the cell occurs by sliding apart of the thecae and addition of new bands to the inner, overlapped theca. At cell division, each daughter cell inherits one of the thecae of the parent and forms a new theca internally. Hence, because the silicified wall is inelastic, average cell size usually declines during vegetative growth and has to be restored through expansion of a special cell, the auxospore, usually after sexual reproduction. A few diatoms have lost their plastids and are osmotrophic. Classification has traditionally relied on details of valve structure. There is a rich fossil record.


Bacillariophyta Diatoms Frustule Girdle Silicification Valves 



The authors are most grateful to Prof. Linda Medlin for comments on the manuscript, Prof. Masahiko Idei for micrographs of sexual stages and auxospores, and Drs. Shinya Sato and Laia Rovira for SEM images of auxospores.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • David G. Mann
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Richard M. Crawford
    • 3
  • Frank E. Round
    • 3
  1. 1.Royal Botanic Garden EdinburghEdinburghUK
  2. 2.Aquatic EcosystemsInstitute for Food and Agricultural Research and Technology (IRTA)Sant Carles de la RàpitaSpain
  3. 3.University of BristolBristolUK

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