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Protist. 2001 Dec;152(4):355-66.

Biodiversity of terrestrial protozoa appears homogeneous across local and global spatial scales.

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CEH-Windermere, Ambleside, Cumbria, UK.


Free-living microbes are by far the most abundant group of organisms in the biosphere, yet estimates of global species richness remain nebulous, and there is no consensus regarding the likely geographical distribution of species. Both uncertainties are addressed by the suggestion that the vast abundance of microbes may drive their ubiquitous random dispersal; for this would also make it likely that global species richness is relatively low. Here we test the idea of ubiquitous dispersal of testate amoebae and ciliates living in soil. We analysed their abundance and species richness in 150 soil samples collected from the one-hectare grassland site at Sourhope in Scotland, and in comparable published data from 1500 soil samples collected worldwide. Following taxonomic revision and removal of synonyms, there remained a total of 186 taxa (91 testate and 95 ciliate) recorded from both Sourhope and other places in the world. A fundamental pattern of random spatial distribution of species was revealed in species that are relatively rare. This probably arises from random dispersal, for when localised population growth occurs, the distributions become aggregated, as in virtually all metazoan species. We find no evidence for geographically-restricted protozoan morphospecies at spatial scales of 4 m2, 10,000 m2, or worldwide. Species that are locally rare or abundant are similarly rare or abundant on a global scale. Approximately one third of the global diversity of soil protozoa was found at the one-hectare grassland site in Scotland, but this is a minimum figure, for recorded species richness is proportional to sampling effort, as shown here.

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