Reproduction among these organisms is primarily asexual by binary fission, with each daughter cell receiving one of the parent cell's two frustules (or theca). This is used by each daughter cell as the larger frustule (or epitheca) into which a second, small frustule (or hypotheca) is constructed.
This form of division results in a size reduction of the daughter cell that received the smaller frustule from the parent and therefore the average cell size of a diatom population decreases, until the cells are about one-third their maximum size. It has been observed, however, that certain taxa have the ability to divide without causing a reduction in cell size. Nonetheless, in order to restore the cell size of a diatom population for those that do endure size reduction, sexual reproduction and auxospore formation must occur. Vegetative cells of diatoms are diploid (2N) and so meiosis can take place, producing male and female gametes which then fuse to form the zygote. The zygote sheds its silica theca and grows into a large sphere covered by an organic membrane, the auxospore. A new diatom cell of maximum size, the initial cell, forms within the auxospore thus beginning a new generation. Resting spores may also be formed as a response to unfavourable environmental conditions with germination occurring when conditions improve.
Diatoms are mostly non-motile; however, sperm found in some species can be flagellated, though motility is usually limited to a gliding motion. In centric diatoms, the small male gametes have one flagellum while the female gametes are large and non-motile (oogamous). Conversely, in pinnate diatoms both gametes lack flagella (isoogamous). Certain araphid species have been documented as anisogamous and are, therefore, considered to represent a transitional stage between centric and pinnate diatoms.
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