Despite the ecological importance of marine pico-size eukaryotes, the study of their in situ diversity using molecular tools started just a few years ago. These studies have revealed that marine picoeukaryotes are very diverse and include many novel taxa. However, the amount and structure of their phylogenetic diversity and the extent of their sequence novelty still remains poorly known, as a systematic analysis has been seldom attempted. In this study, we use a coherent and carefully curated data set of 500 published 18S ribosomal DNA sequences to quantify the diversity and novelty patterns of picoeukaryotes in the Indian Ocean. Our phylogenetic tree showed many distant lineages. We grouped sequences in OTUs (operational taxonomic units) at discrete values delineated by pair-wise Jukes–Cantor (JC) distances and tree patristic distances. At a distance of 0.01, the number of OTUs observed (237/242; using JC or patristic distances, respectively) was half the number of sequences analyzed, indicating the existence of microdiverse clusters of highly related sequences. At this distance level, we estimated 600–800 OTUs using several statistical methods. The number of OTUs observed was still substantial at higher distances (39/82 at 0.20 distance) suggesting a large diversity at high-taxonomic ranks. Most sequences were related to marine clones from other sites and many were distant to cultured organisms, highlighting the huge culturing gap within protists. The novelty analysis indicated the putative presence of pseudogenes and of truly novel high-rank phylogenetic lineages. The identified diversity and novelty patterns among marine picoeukaryotes are of great importance for understanding and interpreting their ecology and evolution
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