A Resurgence in Field Research is Essential to Better Understand the Diversity, Ecology, and Evolution of Microbial Eukaryotes

Authors

  • Thierry J. Heger,

    Corresponding author
    1. Departments of Botany and Zoology, Beaty Biodiversity Research Centre and Museum, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
    • Correspondence

      T. J. Heger and N. Yubuki, Departments of Botany and Zoology, Beaty Biodiversity Research Centre and Museum, University of British Columbia, 6270 University Blvd., Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada

      Telephone number: +1 604 822 4892; FAX number: +1 604 822 6089; e-mails: thierry.heger@botany.ubc.ca and yubuki@mail.ubc.ca

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  • Virginia P. Edgcomb,

    1. Geology and Geophysics Department, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA
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  • Eunsoo Kim,

    1. Division of Invertebrate Zoology, American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York, USA
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  • Julius Lukeš,

    1. Institute of Parasitology, Biology Centre, Czech Academy of Sciences and Faculty of Science, University of South Bohemia, České Budějovice, Czech Republic
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  • Brian S. Leander,

    1. Departments of Botany and Zoology, Beaty Biodiversity Research Centre and Museum, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
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  • Naoji Yubuki

    Corresponding author
    1. Departments of Botany and Zoology, Beaty Biodiversity Research Centre and Museum, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, Canada
    • Correspondence

      T. J. Heger and N. Yubuki, Departments of Botany and Zoology, Beaty Biodiversity Research Centre and Museum, University of British Columbia, 6270 University Blvd., Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z4, Canada

      Telephone number: +1 604 822 4892; FAX number: +1 604 822 6089; e-mails: thierry.heger@botany.ubc.ca and yubuki@mail.ubc.ca

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Abstract

The discovery and characterization of protist communities from diverse environments are crucial for understanding the overall evolutionary history of life on earth. However, major questions about the diversity, ecology, and evolutionary history of protists remain unanswered, notably because data obtained from natural protist communities, especially of heterotrophic species, remain limited. In this review, we discuss the challenges associated with “field protistology”, defined here as the exploration, characterization, and interpretation of microbial eukaryotic diversity within the context of natural environments or field experiments, and provide suggestions to help fill this important gap in knowledge. We also argue that increased efforts in field studies that combine molecular and microscopical methods offer the most promising path toward (1) the discovery of new lineages that expand the tree of eukaryotes; (2) the recognition of novel evolutionary patterns and processes; (3) the untangling of ecological interactions and functions, and their roles in larger ecosystem processes; and (4) the evaluation of protist adaptations to a changing climate.

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