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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

what are structure of the cell
wana Reply
what did Darwin say about evolution
Hope Reply
effect of planning beans of using fertilizer
Elizerbeth Reply
what do we mean by transgenic organisms?
FADILAT Reply
what is or are the functions of the Islets of Langarhaans
FADILAT
They are the regions of the pancreas that contains the endocrine cell
Iyadi
is the studly of life
Aisha Reply
what is biology
Asunta Reply
is the study of living organism and their interection with one another and their environment.
Belbon
what is soil
Mukisa Reply
the top layer of the earth in which plant's, tree's
Ahmad
type of soil
Asunta
function of cell wall
Nthati Reply
function of cell wall
Asunta
To protect the cell from bursting
Maurice
to protect the cell from bursting
Deborah
to protect all other internal components of the cell
Olaoye
What is escherichia coli
Tumise Reply
in what type of cells is meiosis taking place?
Rhyeann Reply
sex cells
Eric
hlo
Amit
reproductive system of earthworm plzz describes
Amit
procryotic cell and some eucaryotic cell
Olaoye
applications of biology
Namawejje Reply
what is dormancy?
Aliyu Reply
hello guys what's the difference between prokaryotes and eukaryotes
Nwachukwu Reply
hlo what are the applications of biology?
Namawejje
eukaryotic cells have DNA in their nucleus while prokaryotic cells have their DNA present freely in their cytoplasm.
FADILAT
deviation from mendelian
Ogali Reply
what is lethal allele
Ogali
a lethal allele is an allele that can cause poor development or even death of an organism
Olaoye
Explain how chemical , bioligical and physical interaction between themselves and the non living components ?
Beyan Reply

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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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