Phylogenetic diversity in freshwater-dwelling Isochrysidales haptophytes with implications for alkenone production. Academic Article uri icon


  • Members of the order Isochrysidales are unique among haptophyte lineages in being the exclusive producers of alkenones, long-chain ketones that are commonly used for paleotemperature reconstructions. Alkenone-producing haptophytes are divided into three major groups based largely on molecular ecological data: Group I is found in freshwater lakes, Group II commonly occurs in brackish and coastal marine environments, and Group III consists of open ocean species. Each group has distinct alkenone distributions; however, only Groups II and III Isochrysidales currently have cultured representatives. The uncultured Group I Isochrysidales are distinguished geochemically by the presence of tri-unsaturated alkenone isomers (C37:3b Me, C38:3b Et, C38:3b Me, C39:3b Et) present in water column and sediment samples, yet their genetic diversity, morphology, and environmental controls are largely unknown. Using small-subunit (SSU) ribosomal RNA (rRNA) marker gene amplicon high-throughput sequencing of environmental water column and sediment samples, we show that Group I is monophyletic with high phylogenetic diversity and contains a well-supported clade separating the previously described "EV" clade from the "Greenland" clade. We infer the first partial large-subunit (LSU) rRNA gene Group I sequence phylogeny, which uncovered additional well-supported clades embedded within Group I. Relative to Group II, Group I revealed higher levels of genetic diversity despite conservation of alkenone signatures and a closer evolutionary relationship with Group III. In Group I, the presence of the tri-unsaturated alkenone isomers appears to be conserved, which is not the case for Group II. This suggests differing environmental influences on Group I and II and perhaps uncovers evolutionary constraints on alkenone biosynthesis.

publication date

  • February 5, 2019