The Current

Researchers uncover what may be the ocean's most prolific predator

This tiny predator plays a huge role in the ocean's food web.
One of the diplonemid predators ( © Noriko Okamoto)

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The discovery of something very small has disrupted the way we see entire oceans and ecosystems.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia have captured insight into an elusive creature from the ocean, referred to as "diplonemids."

Diplonemids had previously slipped by the scientific community, but with a change in perspective, Patrick Keeling and his fellow researchers discovered these single-celled microbes exist in staggering numbers. 

"It turns out that a single species of these diplonemids is far more abundant than an entire kingdom [of organisms] we previously thought was abundant."

Diplonemids appear to be the largest in quantity of all ocean predators. 

Researchers collect diplonemids off the coast of California. (Alyson Santoro)

Furthermore, researchers say these microbes play one of the most central roles in ocean systems — eating other small organisms and moving the energy up into the system.

The base of all these ecosystems are entirely microbial and if you take the foundation of an ecosystem out, the whole thing collapses.-Patrick Keeling, evolutionary microbiologist 

The Current's host Anna Maria Tremonti asks Patrick Keeling what this discovery means for ocean science, and how he and his team went about swinging upstream. 

Related: This segment is part of The Current's ongoing series, The Disruptors.

This segment was produced by The Current's Alex Mason.