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Are We Overestimating Protistan Diversity in Nature?

Caron, David A., Hu, Sarah K.
Trends in microbiology 2019 v.27 no.3 pp. 197-205
DNA, morphospecies, nucleotide sequences, protists, species richness, surveys
Documenting the immense diversity of single-celled, eukaryotic organisms (protists) has been a formidable challenge for ecologists. These species were originally defined by morphological criteria, but shortcomings of the morphospecies concept, and a bewildering array of sizes and cellular attributes, has made constructing a taxonomy that is useful for ecologists nearly impossible. Consequently, physiological and genetic information has been integrated to address these shortcomings, and to develop the framework of a unifying taxonomy. DNA sequence information, in particular, has revolutionized studies of protistan diversity. However, the exponential increase in sequence-based protistan species richness published from field surveys in recent years raises the question of whether we have moved beyond characterizing species-level diversity and begun to reveal intraspecies diversity. The answer to that question appears to be ‘yes’, at least for some protistan lineages. The need to document such microdiversity may be justified, but it is important for protistologists to recognize and acknowledge that possibility, and its consequences.