Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

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Department ofBotany

Gambierdiscus

Introduction


Living dinoflagellates are one of the most important components in plankton. They are small single-celled organisms, which swim freely in water with a forward spiraling motion propelled by dimorphic flagella. Many dinoflagellates are primary producers of food in the aquatic food webs. Dinoflagellates are an integral part of the first link in the aquatic food chain: the initial transfer of light energy to chemical energy (photosynthesis). Almost all other organisms are dependent upon this energy transfer for their subsequent existence. It is a little-known fact that only a small percentage of the living dinoflagellate algae of the species-rich marine ecosystem is known or illustrated.

The primary tasks of collection related research have been documenting how ecological, physiological, and environmental interactions may affect species diversity and the distribution of toxic and nontoxic dinoflagellates. This very old and successful group of unicellular aquatic, eukaryotic microorganisms comprises a large number of algal species of many shapes and sizes. In view of the central role dinoflagellates play in marine waters, research is of great importance because of the accelerating pace of environmental degradation worldwide. Dr. Maria Faust is the Dinoflagellate Phycologist in the Department of Botany, National Museum of Natural History, and has been using the Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) and other methods to identify the biodiversity of dinoflagellates.

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