The genetic diversity of planktonic eukaryotic microorganisms (size range 3–40 µm) inhabiting 11 alpine lakes of the Central Pyrenees (Spain) was analysed by cloning and sequencing of the 18S rRNA gene. The selected lakes covered a wide range of environmental conditions representative of the regional landscape heterogeneity. Overall, we obtained 953 sequences (averaged length 750 bp) that were grouped in 343 representative OTUs (98% identity). The genetic richness was high, and the 18S rRNA gene sequences spread within nine high-rank taxonomic groups and grouped in 26 eukaryal classes. Most of the sequences affiliated with Stramenopiles (> 55% of total sequences, mostly Chrysophyceae), Cryptophyta and Alveolata (15% each). Three groups had relative abundance < 5%, i.e. Opisthokonta (mostly Fungi), Viridiplantae (mostly Chlorophyceae) and Rhizaria (cercomonads). Finally, minor groups were related to Katablepharidophyta, Euglenozoa and Telonemida. The lakes showed a different community structure being pH, and phosphorous and Chl a concentrations the main environmental drivers. The novelty level was high, and a quarter of the retrieved OTUs were notably divergent (< 97% identity) from any previously known sequence, mainly for Rhizaria and Opisthokonta. More than 50% of the sequences affiliated with clusters exclusively formed by uncultured protists. Cryptophyta and Viridiplantae showed the largest number of sequences closely related to cultured counterparts. This work is the first description of the genetic diversity of eukaryotic assemblages in ultraoligotrophic high mountain lakes, and the study unveils alpine environments as an important reservoir of microbial eukaryotic biodiversity.
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