Diatom

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Diatoms[1] are a major group of algae, and are one of the most common types of phytoplankton. Most diatoms are unicellular, although they can exist as colonies in the shape of filaments or ribbons (e.g. Fragillaria), fans (e.g. Meridion), zigzags (e.g. Tabellaria), or stellate colonies (e.g. Asterionella). Diatoms are producers within the food chain. A characteristic feature of diatom cells is that they are encased within a unique cell wall made of silica (hydrated silicon dioxide) called a frustule. These frustules show a wide diversity in form, but usually consist of two asymmetrical sides with a split between them, hence the group name. Fossil evidence suggests that they originated during, or before, the early Jurassic Period. Diatom communities are a popular tool for monitoring environmental conditions, past and present, and are commonly used in studies of water quality.

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General biology

There are more than 200 genera of living diatoms, and it is estimated that there are approximately 100,000 extant species.[2][3][4] Diatoms are a widespread group and can be found in the oceans, in freshwater, in soils and on damp surfaces. Most live pelagically in open water, although some live as surface films at the water-sediment interface (benthic), or even under damp atmospheric conditions. They are especially important in oceans, where they are estimated to contribute up to 45% of the total oceanic primary production.[5] Spatial distribution of marine phytoplankton species is restricted both horizontally and vertically.[6] Diatoms occur in all oceans from the poles to the tropics; polar and subpolar regions contain relatively few species compared with temperate biota. Although tropical regions exhibit the greatest number of species, more abundant populations are found in polar to temperate regions.[7] Usually microscopic, some species of diatoms can reach up to 2 millimetres in length.

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