Chemical stratification occurs in the water columns and sediments of many aquatic habitats resulting in vertical chemical and redox gradients. Various types of microorganisms are often associated with specific depths and chemical parameters in these situations. For example, magnetite-producing magnetotactic bacteria are known to form horizontal “plates” of cells at the oxic/anoxic transition zone (OATZ) of such environments. Here, we report the presence of populations of diverse magnetic protists in a seasonally chemically stratified, coastal salt pond. The protistan types included several biflagellates, a dinoflagellate, and a ciliate that were each associated with specific depths and thus, specific chemical, microbiological and redox conditions in the water column. Most cells contained crystals of magnetite usually arranged in chains similar to the magnetosomes in the magnetotactic bacteria. The origin of the particles is unknown. There was no evidence of the presence of endosymbiotic magnetotactic bacteria within the protists nor were the protists observed to be engulfing magnetotactic bacteria despite the fact that high numbers of the latter were present at the same depths as the protists. However, this does not exclude ingestion of magnetotactic bacteria as a source of the magnetic particles while others may biomineralize magnetite. Because protists play an important role in the availability of iron for phytoplankton in marine waters by ingesting and reducing colloidal iron particles, the protists described here could play a significant role in iron cycling in chemically stratified anoxic basins, either through endogenous production of magnetic iron oxide and/or iron sulfide particles, or by ingestion of magnetotactic bacteria and the subsequent reduction and dissolution of iron oxide and/or sulfide particles in their magnetosomes.



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