Photosynthetic picoeukaryotes (PPEs), comprising organisms < 3 μm in size, are important primary producers in marine food webs and include representatives from all known algal lineages. Little is known, however, regarding the composition and distribution of PPE communities, particularly at large spatial scales, or in relation to the underlying biotic and abiotic factors that influence this structure. Here, we analysed PPE community structure along a transect in the South East Pacific Ocean (BIOSOPE cruise) that encompassed a large trophic gradient, including hyper-oligotrophic waters in the South Pacific Gyre (SPG), considered to be some of the ‘clearest’ natural waters on Earth. Using dot blot hybridizations with 16S rRNA oligonucleotide probes, we established that the PPE community was dominated by members of the classes Prymnesiophyceae and Chrysophyceae throughout the transect. Moreover, clone library construction followed by phylogenetic analysis of sequenced clones revealed several novel 16S rRNA gene lineages, including new clades of prymnesiophytes (designated Prym 16S-III) and prasinophytes (Pras 16S-VIII). Pras 16S-VIII was found at all five stations at which clone libraries were constructed, representing a range of trophic conditions, including the South Pacific Gyre, suggesting members of this clade have a broad distribution in this part of the South East Pacific at least. In contrast, Prym 16S-III sequences were largely restricted to oligotrophic stations of the SPG. Subsequent multivariate statistical analyses showed that, within the measured factors, chemical and biological factors seem to influence PPE community structure more than physical parameters. However, more than 50% of the variation in distribution of PPE classes remained unexplained.