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By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Describe the role that protists play in the ecosystem
  • Describe important pathogenic species of protists

Protists function in various ecological niches. Whereas some protist species are essential components of the food chain and generators of biomass, others function in the decomposition of organic materials. Still other protists are dangerous human pathogens or causative agents of devastating plant diseases.

Primary producers/food sources

Protists are essential sources of nutrition for many other organisms. In some cases, as in plankton, protists are consumed directly. Alternatively, photosynthetic protists serve as producers of nutrition for other organisms. For instance, photosynthetic dinoflagellates called zooxanthellae use sunlight to fix inorganic carbon. In this symbiotic relationship, these protists provide nutrients for coral polyps ( [link] ) that house them, giving corals a boost of energy to secrete a calcium carbonate skeleton. In turn, the corals provide the protist with a protected environment and the compounds needed for photosynthesis. This type of symbiotic relationship is important in nutrient-poor environments. Without dinoflagellate symbionts, corals lose algal pigments in a process called coral bleaching, and they eventually die. This explains why reef-building corals do not reside in waters deeper than 20 meters: insufficient light reaches those depths for dinoflagellates to photosynthesize.

This underwater photo shows coral polyps. Polyps are cup-shaped and have tentacles extending from the edge of the cup.
Coral polyps obtain nutrition through a symbiotic relationship with dinoflagellates.

The protists themselves and their products of photosynthesis are essential—directly or indirectly—to the survival of organisms ranging from bacteria to mammals ( [link] ). As primary producers, protists feed a large proportion of the world’s aquatic species. (On land, terrestrial plants serve as primary producers.) In fact, approximately one-quarter of the world’s photosynthesis is conducted by protists, particularly dinoflagellates, diatoms, and multicellular algae.

The photo collage shows mollusks, a crab, a dolphin, a penguin, and a school of fish.
Virtually all aquatic organisms depend directly or indirectly on protists for food. (credit “mollusks”: modification of work by Craig Stihler, USFWS; credit “crab”: modification of work by David Berkowitz; credit “dolphin”: modification of work by Mike Baird; credit “fish”: modification of work by Tim Sheerman-Chase; credit “penguin”: modification of work by Aaron Logan)

Protists do not create food sources only for sea-dwelling organisms. For instance, certain anaerobic parabasalid species exist in the digestive tracts of termites and wood-eating cockroaches, where they contribute an essential step in the digestion of cellulose ingested by these insects as they bore through wood.

Human pathogens

A pathogen is anything that causes disease. Parasites live in or on an organism and harm the organism. A significant number of protists are pathogenic parasites that must infect other organisms to survive and propagate. Protist parasites include the causative agents of malaria, African sleeping sickness, and waterborne gastroenteritis in humans. Other protist pathogens prey on plants, effecting massive destruction of food crops.

Questions & Answers

Is the "growth and maintenance phase" in a cell's life cycle when cell division is about to occur
Somto Reply
what is the common name of Basidiomycetes
Ogechukwu Reply
الاجزاء النباتية لابد من تعقيمها قبل زراعتها في القوارير
yes
tariq
whats this?
tariq
do you speak arabic?!
what are bio elements
Shahzad Reply
which are present In Body And such elements Have Great role in our Body there are 16 bio elements that maintains human Body but on The basis of amount There are 6 bio elements present in Concen. of 99% and More Valuable And Highly Concen. element is Oxygent with 65 %
Haider
how je pollution brought about
Lamina Reply
how je pollution brouhgt about
Lamina
non is pollution brouhgt about
Lamina
describe the anatomy of cell division
Ivanovic Reply
Complex traits such as height result from 
Ruben Reply
what is the difference between chloroplasts and mitochondria
Nkalubo Reply
chloroplast in plants and bacterial cell ; mitochondria in animal cells
aung
Diagram of a living cell
Eliza Reply
what is cell
Sule
A cell is the smallest basic unit of life.
John
what's biology
Ogochukwu Reply
this is da study of living and non-living thing in an eco-system
Nutty
it is the study of living and non living organism in the ecology
Akufia
I agree with you dat biology is d study of living nd nonliving features
Winner
why do plants store carbohydrates in form of starch and not glucose?
Nutty Reply
Describe the structure of starch?
Nutty
wat is diffusion
Winner
water is life!.. Discuss?
Nutty Reply
why do plants store carbohydrates in form if starch not glucose!
Nutty
study of living thing
Dennis Reply
what is beyond a liveing cell
Raymond
what is biology
Gabriel Reply
d study of living nd non living thing
Winner
what is vasectomy
Evelyn Reply
The surgical removal of d spermduct
Eniola

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Source:  OpenStax, Biology. OpenStax CNX. Feb 29, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11448/1.10
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