In this study we used a comparative multiproxy survey (fossil DNA, calcareous nannofossils, and lipid biomarkers) to test whether preserved genetic signatures provide an accurate view of haptophyte and dinoflagellate populations during deposition of the eastern Mediterranean sapropel S1 and the organic carbon-depleted oxidized marls flanking the S1 and to see if we could identify important environmental indicator species that did not fossilize and escaped previous microscopic identification. The marls above and below the S1 contained low concentrations of lipid biomarkers diagnostic for dinoflagellates and haptophytes (i.e., dinosterol and long-chain alkenones), but 500 base pair long ribosomal DNA fragments of these protists were below the detection limit. In contrast, dinoflagellate and haptophyte DNA could be recovered from the organic carbon-rich S1, but the most abundant sequences did not represent species that were part of the nannofossil (this study) or previously described dinocyst composition. The oldest section of S1 (9.8 to ∼8 14C kyr B.P.) revealed a predominance of dinoflagellate phylotypes, which were previously only detected in anoxic Black Sea sediments. In the same section of the core, the most abundant haptophyte sequence showed highest similarity with uncultivated haptophytes that were previously shown to grow mixotrophically as predators of picocyanobacteria, an adaptation that promotes growth in oligotrophic marine waters. Sequences with highest similarities to clones found in marine surface waters predominated in the S1 after ∼8 14C kyr B.P. We discuss whether the shifts in haptophyte and dinoflagellate populations inferred from the preserved DNA reflect known environmental changes that occurred during the formation of sapropel S1.