Ciliates and the Rare Biosphere—Community Ecology and Population Dynamics


  • Thomas Weisse

    Corresponding author
    1. Research Institute for Limnology, University of Innsbruck, Mondsee, Austria
    • Correspondence

      T. Weisse, Research Institute for Limnology, University of Innsbruck, Herzog Odilostrasse 101, 5310 Mondsee, Austria

      Telephone number: +43 (0) 512-507-50200; FAX number: +43 (0) 512-507-50299; e-mail:

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Application of deep sequencing technologies to environmental samples and some detailed morphological studies suggest that there is a vast, yet unexplored rare ciliate biosphere, tentatively defined in terms of operational taxonomic units. However, very few studies complemented molecular and phylogenetic data with morphological and ecological descriptions of the species inventory. This is mainly because the sampling effort increases strongly with decreasing species abundance. In spite of this limited knowledge, it is clear that species that are rare under certain environmental conditions (temporal rare biosphere) may become abundant when the physical, chemical, and biological variables of their habitat change. Furthermore, some species may always be present in low numbers if their dispersal rates are exceedingly high (accidental rare biosphere). An intriguing question is whether there are some species that are always rare, i.e., in every suitable environment. This permanent rare biosphere is conceptually different from the temporal rare biosphere. This review characterizes typical aquatic habitats of the rare ciliate biosphere, portrays different scenarios under which some or even many species may be permanently rare (background fauna), and identifies some fundamental questions that need to be addressed to achieve a better understanding of the population dynamics of the rare ciliate biosphere.