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Summary

This study presents an original 18S rRNA PCR survey of the freshwater picoeukaryote community, and was designed to detect unidentified heterotrophic picoflagellates (size range 0.6–5 μm) which are prevalent throughout the year within the heterotrophic flagellate assemblage in Lake Pavin. Four clone libraries were constructed from samples collected in two contrasting zones in the lake. Computerized statistic tools have suggested that sequence retrieval was representative of the in situ picoplankton diversity. The two sampling zones exhibited similar diversity patterns but shared only about 5% of the operational taxonomic units (OTUs). Phylogenetic analysis clustered our sequences into three taxonomic groups: Alveolates (30% of OTUs), Fungi (23%) and Cercozoa (19%). Fungi thus substantially contributed to the detected diversity, as was additionally supported by direct microscopic observations of fungal zoospores and sporangia. A large fraction of the sequences belonged to parasites, including Alveolate sequences affiliated to the genus Perkinsus known as zooparasites, and chytrids that include host-specific parasitic fungi of various freshwater phytoplankton species, primarily diatoms. Phylogenetic analysis revealed five novel clades that probably include typical freshwater environmental sequences. Overall, from the unsuspected fungal diversity unveiled, we think that fungal zooflagellates have been misidentified as phagotrophic nanoflagellates in previous studies. This is in agreement with a recent experimental demonstration that zoospore-producing fungi and parasitic activity may play an important role in aquatic food webs.