The Parmales are a group of marine microalgae, closely related to the Bolidophyceae and the diatoms. The parmalean cell includes a chloroplast (with chlorophylls a+c1+c2+c3), Golgi body, nucleus, mitochondrion and large vacuole, but lacks flagella. The cell wall is composed of 5–8 interlocking siliceous plates, which exhibit distinct dorsal, ventral, shield and girdle plate morphologies. The group currently includes approximately 20 taxa, mostly described from high latitudes, although some tropical species also have been reported. Parmalean algae reach high absolute abundances in the spring, before sinking to the pycnocline in the summer – a strategy similar to the centric diatoms. Their rare occurrences in sediment trap and surface sediments suggest that the siliceous plates are mostly recycled in the photic zone, yet plates of parmalean algae have been discovered in older sediments, although their true stratigraphic distribution remains unknown.

Key Concepts:

  • Recent gene sequences have shown that the Parmales are closely related to the Bolidophyceae and the diatoms, with similar cell features and pigment composition.

  • Cells are covered by 5–8 silicified plates, consisting of three or four types (shield, girdle, ventral and/or distal), arranged in a particular pattern and with distinct morphology, which defines each genus.

  • At present no flagellate stage, ploidy level or life cycle has been identified, however, it is possible that the nonmotile silica plate‐bearing cells are diploid, and alternate with a naked bolidophyte‐like flagellate haploid stage.

  • Most taxa inhabit high latitude areas, although tropical taxa also exist.

  • Studies have shown their ecology is similar to that of the centric diatoms, with assemblages remaining in their silicified form throughout the year and sinking to the pycnocline in the summer.

  • Remains of parmalean cells found in the fossil record suggest at least an early Cenozoic origin, but when molecular clock calculations are made in the future a much older origin is expected.

Keywords: marine; microalgae; plates; plankton; silica

Figure 1.

Schematic diagram of a sectioned parmalean cell, based on Figure 11 in Marchant and McEldowney . Reproduced with permission from Springer.

Figure 2.

(a) Four parmalean taxa of different sizes (St. KNOT, KH99‐3, western North Pacific, 60 m). (b) Two cells of Tetraparma pelagica, one with and other without central spines (St. KNOT, KH99‐3, western North Pacific, 60 m). (c) Cell of T. pelagica showing one shield plate missing, exposing the flanges (arrow) of the surrounding plates (St. 19, KH07‐4, Southern Ocean, surface water). (d) Collapsed cell of T. pelagica showing exposed flanges of several plates and the hole at the end of one of the arms of the distal plate (arrows) (St. 19, KH07‐4, Southern Ocean, surface water).

Figure 3.

Siliceous plate configurations of Tetraparma pelagica showing (a) cell in dorsal view (St. 19, KH07‐4, Southern Ocean, surface water) and (b) cell in girdle view (St. 20, KH07‐4, Southern Ocean, surface water), and of Triparma columacea subsp. alata showing. (c) Cell in shield view (St. 19, KH07‐4, Southern Ocean, surface water) and (d) cell in girdle view (St. 20, KH07‐4, Southern Ocean, surface water). d=distal plate, g=girdle plate, s=shield plate, v=ventral plate.

Figure 4.

Examples of each of the three parmalean genera: (a) Pentalamina corona (St. 3, KH07‐4, Southern Ocean, surface water), (b) Tetraparma pelagica (St. 20, KH07‐4, Southern Ocean, surface water) and (c) Triparma columacea subsp. alata (St. 19, KH07‐4, Southern Ocean, surface water).

Figure 5.

(a) Filter with numerous parmalean cells (St. 337, Conrad 10, southern Bering Sea, surface water). (b) Combination cell with Tetraparma pelagica (upper) and T. gracilis (lower) (St. 3, KH07‐4, Southern Ocean, surface water). (c) Collapsed cell of T. pelagica, containing inside either an identical but incompletely formed cell cover or an unidentified life cycle phase (St. 337, Conrad 10, southern Bering Sea, surface water). (d) Zooplankton faecal pellet containing parmalean cells (St. KNOT, KH99‐3, western North Pacific, 150 m).



Bérard‐Therriault L, Poulin M and Bossé L (1999) Guide d'identification du phytoplancton marin de l'estuaire et du Golfe du Saint‐Laurent – incluant également certains protozoaires. Publication spéciale canadienne des sciences halieutiques et aquatiques 128: 1–387.

Booth BC, Lewin J and Norris RE (1980) Siliceous nanoplankton. I. Newly discovered cysts from the Gulf of Alaska. Marine Biology 58: 205–209.

Booth BC, Lewin J and Norris RE (1981) Silicified cysts in North Pacific nanoplankton. Biological Oceanography 1: 57–80.

Booth BC and Marchant HJ (1987) Parmales, a new order of marine chrysophytes, with descriptions of three new genera and seven new species. Journal of Phycology 23: 245–260.

Booth BC and Marchant HJ (1988) Triparmaceae, a substitute name for a family in the order Parmales (Chrysophyceae). Journal of Phycology 24: 124.

Bravo‐Sierra E and Hernández‐Becerril DU (2003) Parmales (Chrysophyceae) from the Gulf of Tehuantepec, Mexico, including the description of a new species, Tetraparma insecta sp. nov., and a proposal to the taxonomy of the group. Journal of Phycology 39: 577–583.

Buck KR and Garrison DL (1983) Protists from the ice‐edge region of the Weddell Sea. Deep‐Sea Research 30: 1261–1277.

Daugbjerg N and Guillou L (2001) Phylogenetic analyses of Bolidophyceae (Heterokontophyta) using rbcL gene sequences support their sister group relationship to diatoms. Phycologia 40: 153–161.

Franklin DC and Marchant HJ (1995) Parmales in sediments of Prydz Bay, East Antarctica: a new biofacies and paleoenvironmental indicator of cold water deposition? Micropaleontology 41: 89–94.

Goldberg ED, Baker M and Fox DL (1952) Microfiltration in oceanographic research. I. Marine sampling with the molecular filter. Journal of Marine Research 11: 194–204.

Guillou L (2011) Characterization of the Parmales: much more than the resolution of a taxonomic enigma. Journal of Phycology 47: 2–4.

Guillou L, Chrétiennot‐Dinet MJ, Medlin LK et al. (1999) Bolidomonas: a new genus with two species belonging to a new algal class, the Bolidophyceae (Heterokonta). Journal of Phycology 35: 368–381.

Hinz DJ, Poulton AJ, Nielsdóttir MC et al. (2012) Comparative seasonal biogeography of mineralising nannoplankton in the Scotia Sea: Emiliania huxleyi, Fragilariopsis spp. and Tetraparma pelagica. Deep‐Sea Research II 59–60: 57–66.

Ichinomiya M, Gomi Y, Nakamachi M, Ota T and Kobari T (2010) Temporal patterns in silica deposition among siliceous plankton during the spring bloom in the Oyashio region. Deep‐Sea Research II 57: 1665–1670.

Ichinomiya M, Yoshikawa S, Kamiya M et al. (2011) Isolation and characterization of Parmales (Heterokonta/Heterokontophyta/Stramenopiles) from the Oyashio region, western North Pacific. Journal of Phycology 47: 144–151.

Ikävalko J (2001) On the presence of some selected Heterokontophyta (Chrysophyceae, Dictyochophyceae, Bicocoecida) and cysts (‘archaeomonads’) from sea ice – a synopsis. Nova Hedwigia, Beiheft 122: 41–54.

Iwai T and Nishida S (1976) The distribution of modern coccolithophores in the North Pacific. News of the Osaka Micropaleontologists 5: 1–11 (in Japanese).

Komuro C, Narita H, Imai K, Nojiri Y and Jordan RW (2005) Microplankton assemblages at Station KNOT in the subarctic western Pacific, 1999–2000. Deep‐Sea Research II 52: 2206–2217.

Konno S and Jordan RW (2007) An emended terminology for the Parmales (Chrysophyceae). Phycologia 46: 612–616.

Konno S, Ohira R, Komuro C, Harada N and Jordan RW (2007) Six new taxa of subarctic Parmales (Chrysophyceae). Journal of Nannoplankton Research 29: 108–128.

Kosman CA, Thomsen HA and Østergaard JB (1993) Parmales (Chrysophyceae) from Mexican, Californian, Baltic, Arctic and Antarctic waters with the description of new subspecies and several new forms. Phycologia 32: 116–128.

Lovejoy C, Massana R and Pedrós‐Alió C (2006) Diversity and distribution of marine microbial eukaryotes in the Arctic Ocean and adjacent seas. Applied Environmental Microbiology 72: 3085–3095.

Mann DG and Marchant HJ (1989) The origins of the diatom and its life cycle. In: Green JC, Leadbeater BSC and Diver WL (eds) The Chromophyte Algae: Problems and Perspectives, (Systematics Association Special Volume 38), pp. 307–323. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Marchant HJ and McEldowney A (1986) Nanoplanktonic siliceous cysts from Antarctica are algae. Marine Biology 92: 53–57.

Marchant HJ and Nash GV (1986) Electron microscopy of gut contents and faeces of Euphausia superba Dana. Memoirs of National Institute of Polar Research. Special Issue 40: 167–177.

Marchant HJ, Watanabe K and Kawachi M (1996) Marine snow in Antarctic coastal waters. Proceedings of the National Institute of Polar Research Symposium on Polar Biology 9: 75–83.

Nishida S (1979) Atlas of Pacific nanoplanktons. News of the Osaka Micropaleontologists, Special Paper No. 3: pp. 1–31. +23pls.

Nishida S (1986) Nannoplankton flora in the Southern Ocean, with special reference to siliceous varieties. Memoirs of the National Institute for Polar Research, Special Issue 40: 56–68.

Pascher A (1921) Über die Übereinstimmungen zwischen den Diatomeen, Heterokonten und Chrysomonaden. Berichte der Deutschen Botanischen Gesellschaft 39: 236–248.

Peters MC and Andersen RA (1993) The fine structure and scale formation of Chrysolepidomonas dendrolepidota gen. et sp. nov. (Chrysolepidomonadaceae fam. nov., Chrysophyceae). Journal of Phycology 29: 469–475.

Reid PC, Colebrook JM, Matthews JBL, Aiken J and Continuous Plankton Recorder Team (2003) The Continuous Plankton Recorder: concepts and history, from Plankton Indicator to undulating recorders. Progress in Oceanography 58: 117–173.

Round FE and Crawford RM (1981) The lines of evolution of the Bacillariophyta. I. Origin. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, Biological Sciences 211: 237–260.

Schmid A‐MM (1986) Wall morphogenesis in Coscinodiscus wailesii Gran et Angst. II. Cytoplasmic events of valve morphogenesis. In: Ricard M (ed.) Proceedings of the Eighth International Diatom Symposium, pp. 293–314. Koenigstein: Koeltz Scientific Books.

Silver MW, Mitchell JG and Ringo DL (1980) Siliceous nanoplankton. II. Newly discovered cysts and abundant choanoflagellates from the Weddell Sea, Antarctica. Marine Biology 58: 211–217.

Stradner H and Allram F (1982) Notes on an enigmatic siliceous cyst, Middle America Trench, Deep Sea Drilling Project Hole 490. Initial Reports of the Deep Sea Drilling Project 66: 641–642.

Takahashi E, Watanabe K and Satoh H (1986) Siliceous cysts from Kita‐no‐seto Strait, north of Syowa Station, Antarctica. Memoirs of the National Institute for Polar Research, Special Issue 40: 84–95.

Taniguchi A, Suzuki T and Shimada S (1995) Growth characteristics of Parmales (Chrysophyceae) observed in bag cultures. Marine Biology 123: 631–638.

Tanimoto M, Aizawa C and Jordan RW (2003) Assemblages of living microplankton from the subarctic North Pacific and Bering Sea during July August 1999. Courier Forschungsinstitut Senckenberg 244: 83–103.

Thorn VC (2004) Phytoliths in drill core sediments from Sites 1165 and 1166, Leg 188, Prydz Bay, East Antarctica. Proceedings of the Ocean Drilling Program, Scientific Results 188: 1–12.

Urban JL, McKenzie CH and Deibel D (1993) Nannoplankton found in fecal pellets of macrozooplankton in coastal Newfoundland waters. Botanica Marina 36: 267–281.

van den Hoek C, Mann DG and Jahns HM (1995) Algae. An Introduction to Phycology, 623 pp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Zielinski U (1997) Parmales species (siliceous marine nanoplankton) in surface sediments of the Weddell Sea, Southern Ocean: indicators for sea‐ice environment? Marine Micropaleontology 32: 387–395.

Further Reading

Kristiansen J and Preisig HR (eds) (2001) Encyclopedia of Chrysophyte Genera. Bibliotheca Phycologica 110: 1–260.

Marchant HJ and Scott FJ (2005) Chrysophytes. In: Scott FJ and Marchant HJ (eds) Antarctic Marine Protists, pp. 295–307. Canberra and Hobart, Australia: ABRS and AAD.

Contact Editor close
Submit a note to the editor about this article by filling in the form below.

* Required Field

How to Cite close
Konno, Susumu, and Jordan, Richard W(Mar 2012) Parmales. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0023691]