The Kingdom Protista or Protoctista is one of the commonly recognized biological kingdoms, including all the eukaryotes except for the plants, fungi, animals, and sometimes other groups which are treated in separate kingdoms. A few forms are multicellular, for instance the brown and red algae. The vast majority, though, comprise the single-celled organisms, and are typically only 0.01-0.5 mm in size, too small to be seen without a microscope. Protists are ubiquitous throughout aqueous environments and the soil, commonly surviving dry periods in the form of cysts; a few are important parasites.
Traditionally protists have been divided into:
In early classifications the Protozoa were considered a phylum of animals, and the algae and slime molds were placed among several divisions of plants. Many forms were classified under both kingdoms and researched by zoologists and botanists alike. Eventually the kingdom Protista was created to house these forms, with the classes of protozoa (corresponding roughly to the above) being promoted to phyla. Except for the ciliates and Oomycota, however, all the above groups are polyphyletic[?] and frequently overlapping. Further, the protists themselves are understood to be paraphyletic to the other eukaryotic kingdoms.
More recently attempts have been made to divide protists into more genuine groups on the basis of ultrastructural, chemical, and genetic features. In newer systems these are often treated as separate kingdoms. However, there are still many different lines of protists whose relationships are not understood. Many workers now consider the various protist clades as direct subgroups of the eukaryotes, with the admission that we do not yet know enough about them to properly arrange them into a hierarchy. These various clades are listed on our evolutionary tree and under the linked pages above.