Protist diversity and distribution: some basic considerations

Foissner, Wilhelm
February 2008
Biodiversity & Conservation;Feb2008, Vol. 17 Issue 2, p235
Academic Journal
This essay discusses protist species number and geographic distribution, both heavily influenced by undersampling and human introductions. The features of the ubiquity model and the moderate endemicity model are compared. I recognize five main flaws of the ubiquity model, viz., the ignorance of the extraordinary possibilities protists have to speciate due to their short generation time and the likelihood that many persisted over geological time scales; that all protist species have high abundances; that their small size is a main reason for global distribution; the ignorance of human introductions; and the rejection of literature evidence on the occurrence of flagship species with restricted distribution in a wide variety of protists. Thus, the data available support the moderate endemicity model which proposes about 300,000 extant, free-living protist species, of which one third might have a restricted distribution, i.e., is not cosmopolitan in spite of suitable habitats. To sum up, the distribution of protists, flowering plants, and larger animals has much in common, but protists usually have wider ranges and thus a higher proportion of cosmopolites. Future research should reconcile morphologic, genetic, and ecological species concepts because this is crucial for determining the number of protist species. Further, greatly intensified research is required on morphospecies in heterotrophic protists because their diversity has never been investigated in large areas of the earth.


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