Despite the fact that the smallest eukaryotes (cells less than 5 $\mu$m in diameter) play key roles in marine food webs, particularly in open oligotrophic areas, the study of their in situ diversity started just one year ago. Perhaps the most remarkable finding of the most recent studies has been the discovery of completely new phylogenetic lineages, such as novel clades belonging to the stramenopile and alveolate phyla. The two new groups account for a significant fraction of clones in genetic libraries from North Atlantic, equatorial Pacific, Antarctic, and Mediterranean Sea waters. However, the identities and ecological relevance of these organisms remain unknown. Here we investigate the phylogenetic relationships, morphology, in situ abundance, and ecological role of novel stramenopiles. They form at least eight independent clades within the stramenopile basal branches, indicating a large phylogenetic diversity within the group. Two lineages were visualized and enumerated in field samples and enrichments by fluorescent in situ hybridization using specific rRNA-targeted oligonucleotide probes. The targeted organisms were 2- to 3-$\mu$m-diameter, round-shaped, nonpigmented flagellates. Further, they were found to be bacterivorous. One lineage accounted for up to 46% (average during an annual cycle, 19%) of heterotrophic flagellates in a coastal environment, providing evidence that novel stramenopiles are important and unrecognized components of the total stock of bacterial grazers.