The fossil record of planktonic foraminifers is a key source of data on the biodiversity and evolution of marine plankton. One of the most distinctive foraminiferal taxa, Orbulina universa, widely used as a stratigraphic and paleoclimatic index, has always been regarded as a single species. Here we present a phylogenetic analysis of Orbulina small subunit rDNA sequences from 25 pelagic stations covering 100 degrees latitude in the Atlantic Ocean. The genetic data reveal the presence of three cryptic species, whose distribution is clearly correlated to hydrographic provinces, and particularly to sea-surface total chlorophyll a concentration. Our results, together with previous studies, suggest that a considerable part of the diversity among planktonic foraminifers has been overlooked in morphological taxonomies. Our data also support the idea that planktonic foraminifers, even if adapted to particular hydrographic conditions, are high-dispersal organisms whose speciation may be similar to that of other high-dispersal taxa in which reproductive mechanisms and behavior, rather than just geographic barriers to dispersal, play key roles in species formation and maintenance.