Ancient lakes are among the most interesting models for evolution studies because their biodiversity is the result of a complex combination of migration and speciation. Here, we investigate the origin of single celled planktonic eukaryotes from the oldest lake in the world—Lake Baikal (Russia). By using 18S rDNA metabarcoding, we recovered 1414 Operational Taxonomic Units (OTUs) belonging to protists populating surface waters (1–50 m) and representing pico/nano-sized cells. The recovered communities resembled other lacustrine freshwater assemblages found elsewhere, especially the taxonomically unclassified protists. However, our results suggest that a fraction of Baikal protists could belong to glacial relicts and have close relationships with marine/brackish species. Moreover, our results suggest that rapid radiation may have occurred among some protist taxa, partially mirroring what was already shown for multicellular organisms in Lake Baikal. We found 16% of the OTUs belonging to potential species flocks in Stramenopiles, Alveolata, Opisthokonta, Archaeplastida, Rhizaria, and Hacrobia. Putative flocks predominated in Chrysophytes, which are highly diverse in Lake Baikal. Also, the 18S rDNA of a number of species (7% of the total) differed >10% from other known sequences. These taxa as well as those belonging to the flocks may be endemic to Lake Baikal. Overall, our study points to novel diversity of planktonic protists in Lake Baikal, some of which may have emerged in situ after evolutionary diversification.
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