Diatom of the Month - July 2017: New discoveries await!

In the last year and a half, ten different authors have talked about 19 diatom species from 19 different genera in our “Diatom of the Month” blog series (11 biraphid, 2 araphid, 2 centric, 1 epithemioid, 1 eunotioid, 1 monoraphid, and 1 nitzschioid), and we got to know about some fantastic 2D and 3D diatom art. We reached thousands of people online via social media (see image below), thus raising awareness about these beautiful and extremely useful primary producers and environmental indicators.

We importantly relied on the wonderful “Diatoms of the United States” resource for reference and inspiration, which has so far produced taxon pages for 155 genera (25 are underway), and 851 species (202 are underway)! This was made possible over the years by more than 110 taxon contributors, an effort led by Marina Potapova, Sarah Spaulding, and Mark Edlund and kept under scrutiny by the review board members. The DOTUS Facebook page provides regular updates and features as well as news about course like the Summer Field Courses in Iowa on ecology and systematics of diatoms, ecology and systematics of algae, ecology of algal blooms, and even an introductory course for high school students!

New discoveries on the world of diatoms keep taking place. For example, the “Diatoms from remote places” project led by Loren Bahls, curator of the Montana Diatom Collection and funded by Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation has found 67 new and rare diatom taxa (belonging to over 20 genera). Volunteer collections comprise specimens from all of western North America’s major biomes —arctic tundra, boreal forest, temperate rainforest, deserts, alpine tundra, montane forest, and steppe—and all the samples are from remote, relatively unspoiled habitats. This initiative allowed to reveal that the central Cascades in Oregon is a diatom species diversity hotspot. And surely cool new discoveries about diatoms in lakes, rivers, streams, wetlands everywhere will emerge at the upcoming North American Diatom Symposium (Sep 27 - Oct 1) at the Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island in Lake Eerie!

The ~20,000 diatom taxa discovered / described by humans is only the tip of the diatom biodiversity iceberg! Believe it or not there may be up to 2-10 million species of diatom on Earth, with scientists still trying to better define "what a diatom species is" (Guiry, 2012). So many new species are yet to be discovered that citizen scientists, volunteers, and aficionados are very much needed to collect, preserve and study them, in the Everglades (see periphyton mats in the image below) and anywhere else where there is a little bit of water or moisture for some diatoms (and/or other algae) to survive.

Stay tuned and do not forget that these invisible organisms ‘paved the way’ for many other species on this planet (and, who knows, maybe beyond…)!

Guiry, M.D. (2012). How many species of algae are there? Journal of phycology 48: 1057-1063.

Spaulding, S.A., Lubinski, D.J. and Potapova, M. (2010). Diatoms of the United States. http://westerndiatoms.colorado.edu. Accessed on 24 July, 2017.


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