Pfandl, Karin; Chatzinotas, Antonis; Dyal, Patricia; Boenigk, Jens:

SSU rRNA gene variation resolves population heterogeneity and ecophysiological differentiation within a morphospecies (Stramenopiles, Chrysophyceae)

In: Limnology and Oceanography, Jg. 54 (2009) ; Nr. 1, S. 171-181
Zeitschriftenaufsatz / Fach: Biologie
Fakultät für Biologie » Allgemeine Botanik
The objective of this study was to analyze the extent of ecophysiological and molecular homogeneity, or
heterogeneity, of distinct protist populations and to test for correlations between molecular distance and
ecophysiological adaptation in a widespread and ubiquitous protistan taxon. We selected heterotrophic
nanoflagellates of the Spumella morphotype as a model organism, because these flagellates are widespread and
among the dominant bacterivores in many microbial communities. We investigated the molecular microdiversity
and the ecophysiological tolerances for a total of 13 strains originating from two freshwater samples. We further
investigated the affiliation of different ecotypes with distinct small subunit ribosomal ribonucleic acid (SSU
rRNA) genotypes, or molecular operational taxonomic units. These regional population studies were further
compared to the molecular and ecophysiological diversity of 28 strains originating from remote sampling sites.
None of the investigated populations are homogenous, but are rather heterogeneously composed of different
ecotypes and genotypes, possibly corresponding to cryptic species. This population heterogeneity may partly
explain the deviations between studies on single strains and populations in both laboratory and field studies. The
molecular distance between the strains was correlated with the salinity and temperature adaptation of the
respective strains, contradicting the assumption that SSU rRNA variation reflects accumulated neutral
mutations. Independent of whether this correlation reflects adaptation above the (biological) species level or
variation between asexually reproducing lineages, we demonstrate the unsuitability of the current classification
system (species concept) for the investigated organisms, at least with respect to ecological and ecophysiological
The ecology of protistan species