Research ArticleECOLOGY

Ocean currents promote rare species diversity in protists

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Science Advances  15 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 29, eaaz9037
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz9037


Oceans host communities of plankton composed of relatively few abundant species and many rare species. The number of rare protist species in these communities, as estimated in metagenomic studies, decays as a steep power law of their abundance. The ecological factors at the origin of this pattern remain elusive. We propose that chaotic advection by oceanic currents affects biodiversity patterns of rare species. To test this hypothesis, we introduce a spatially explicit coalescence model that reconstructs the species diversity of a sample of water. Our model predicts, in the presence of chaotic advection, a steeper power law decay of the species abundance distribution and a steeper increase of the number of observed species with sample size. A comparison of metagenomic studies of planktonic protist communities in oceans and in lakes quantitatively confirms our prediction. Our results support that oceanic currents positively affect the diversity of rare aquatic microbes.

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