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Charismatic Microflora: Unique Diatom Assemblages on Manatees and Sea Turtles

Tom Frankovich, Florida International University

17 March 2017

Unique diatom assemblages were observed on manatees and sea turtles. These assemblages are vastly different from those found in the surrounding environment but are most similar to those found on the skin of whales. Diatoms of the genus Tursiocola, previously known as the “whale diatoms”, are well represented in the flora. None of the ceticolous species were observed on manatees and sea turtles, but seven new Tursiocola species were described. The Tursiocola species that were observed alive on manatees were apochlorotic (i.e., lacking chloroplasts), a characteristic previously only observed in seven diatom species in the genera Nitzschia and Hantzschia. DNA sequence results suggest that Tursiocola represents a second novel loss of photosynthesis within the diatoms. The recent discovery of unique epizoic diatom communities raises many questions related to general ecological principles such as host specificity, endemism, and island biogeography.