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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Jan 5;107(1):115-20. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0908816106. Epub 2009 Dec 10.

Large-scale patterns in biodiversity of microbial eukaryotes from the abyssal sea floor.

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  • 1Department of General Ecology and Limnology, Institute for Zoology, Biocenter, University of Cologne, Cologne, Germany.


Eukaryotic microbial life at abyssal depths remains "uncharted territory" in eukaryotic microbiology. No phylogenetic surveys have focused on the largest benthic environment on this planet, the abyssal plains. Moreover, knowledge of the spatial patterns of deep-sea community structure is scanty, and what little is known originates primarily from morphology-based studies of foraminiferans. Here we report on the great phylogenetic diversity of microbial eukaryotic communities of all 3 abyssal plains of the southeastern Atlantic Ocean--the Angola, Cape, and Guinea Abyssal Plains--from depths of 5,000 m. A high percentage of retrieved clones had no close representatives in genetic databases. Many clones were affiliated with parasitic species. Furthermore, differences between the communities of the Cape Abyssal Plain and the other 2 abyssal plains point to environmental gradients apparently shaping community structure at the landscape level. On a regional scale, local species diversity showed much less variation. Our study provides insight into the community composition of microbial eukaryotes on larger scales from the wide abyssal sea floor realm and marks a direction for more detailed future studies aimed at improving our understanding of deep-sea microbes at the community and ecosystem levels, as well as the ecological principles at play.

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