Tales from the
TreeBundle of Seedlings, or maybe best called Web of Life:
Traditionally, marine microplankton had been divided similarly to species on land. You had plant-like phytoplankton, such as algae, and animal-like zooplankton that ate the phytoplankton. What Stoecker found was that some of these organisms were somewhere in the middle: They could eat like animals when food was present and photosynthesize like plants in the light. “If you think about it, it can be the best of both worlds,” says marine ecologist Dave A. Caron of the University of Southern California.
Today, there’s growing realization that these in-between beasties — dubbed mixotrophs — are not only widespread but also play vital roles in the ecology of the oceans.Rodrigo Pérez Ortega, “Mixing it up in the web of life” at Knowable Magazine
It turns out that these “mixotrophs” are fairly common and they may play a key role in the carbon cycle of the ocean due to their general flexibility (they can also eat each other). No one knows why,k apart from carnivorous plants, mixotrophy is far more common in the ocean than on land.
But none of this does much for traditional biological classifications like “Animal, Vegetable, Mineral” and a tidy Tree of Life.
Maybe horizontal gene transfer was involved? Plankton could adapt swiftly borrowing genes from nearby organism.
See also: A physicist looks at biology’s problem of “speciation” in humans
Horizontal gene transfer: Sorry, Darwin, it’s not your evolution any more
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