The haptophytes are a group of microalgae, mostly marine, usually phototrophic, that possess a unique organelle, the haptonema, situated close to the flagella. Species identification traditionally relies on the morphology of the unmineralised or mineralised scales, although some recent advances have been made using molecular genetics. A number of taxa form blooms, some of which are toxic to marine life. The haptophytes include the calcified scale‐producing coccolithophorids, whose ancestors are partly responsible for the vast chalk deposits found in northern Europe.

Key Concepts:

  • The haptophytes are a monophyletic group that possess a haptonema.

  • Species identification is based almost entirely on scale morphology and the combination of scale types.

  • Blooms can sometimes cover vast areas of the ocean, contributing significantly to the global carbon and sulphur cycles, and may be toxic.

  • Species‐specific viruses may be involved in the termination of haptophyte blooms.

  • The majority of the chalk and limestone deposits of the Mesozoic and Cenozoic eras were produced by continual coccolith accumulation in the sediments.

Keywords: algal blooms; coccoliths; haptonema; life cycles; scales

Figure 1.

Cross‐section of a Pleurochrysis carterae cell. Scale bar=1 μm. Redrawn and modified with permission from Westbroek et al. (http://www.oup.com).

Figure 2.

Holococcoliths of Coronosphaera mediterranea (gracillima phase). Scale bar=1 μm. Scanning electron micrograph of a water sample collected off the Puerto Rican coast, taken by Kentaroh Oguchi, Yamagata University, Japan.

Figure 3.

Heterococcolith‐bearing coccosphere of Emiliania huxleyi, perhaps the commonest living haptophyte. Scanning electron photomicrograph; taken from a filtered water sample collected from the North Atlantic. Reproduced with permission from Dr Juan Alcober, Universidad de Valencia, Spain.

Figure 4.

Late Cretaceous chalk cliffs along the south Dorset coast, UK, showing Man‐o'‐War Cove, Durdle Cove, Scratchy Bottom, Swyre Head and Bat's Head.



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Further Reading

Bown PR (ed.) (1998) Calcareous Nannofossil Biostratigraphy. Cambridge: Chapman & Hall.

Green JC and Jordan RW (2002) Order prymnesiida. In: Lee JJ, Leedale GF and Bradbury PC (eds) The Illustrated Guide to the Protozoa, 2nd edn, pp. 1268–1302. Lawrence, USA: Society of Protozoologists & Allen Press Inc.

Green JC and Leadbeater BSC (eds) (1994) The Haptophyte Algae. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Jordan RW (2002) Environmental applications of calcareous nannofossils. In: Haslett SK (ed.) Quaternary Environmental Micropalaeontology, pp. 185–206. London: Arnold Publishers Ltd.

Siesser WG (1993) Calcareous nannoplankton. In: Lipps JH (ed.) Fossil Prokaryotes and Protists, pp. 169–201. Boston, MA: Blackwell Scientific.

Thierstein HR and Young JR (eds) (2004) Coccolithophores. From Molecular Processes to Global Impact. Berlin, Heidelberg, New York: Springer‐Verlag.

Tomas CR (ed.) (1993) Marine Phytoplankton: A Guide to Naked Flagellates and Coccolithophorids. London: Academic Press.

Triantaphyllou M (ed.) (2004) Advances in the biology, ecology and taphonomy of extant calcareous nannoplankton. Micropaleontology 50 (suppl. 1): 1–170.

Winter A and Siesser WG (eds) (1994) Coccolithophores. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Young JR, Thierstein HR and Winter A (eds) (2000) Nannoplankton ecology and palaeoecology. Marine Micropaleontology 39: 1–318.

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Jordan, Richard W(Feb 2012) Haptophyta. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0001981.pub2]