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PLANKTON:   Why are they important?

To understand the entire ecosystem ...
we need to better understand the plankton.

The Plankton consist of microscopic plants ("phytoplankton") and animals ("zooplankton").   On the smaller end of the spectrum exist bacteria ("bacterioplankton") and viruses ("virioplankton").   Plankton also consist of the early life stages of much larger organisms, such as fish eggs and larvae ("ichthyoplankton"), which are both part of and dependant on the plankton itself.

Plankton play a key role in the oceanic food web ...

Photosynthesis by the phytoplankton accounts for up to half of global primary production.   They also provide the primary food source for the zooplankton, and together form the base of the oceanic food chain.  Larger and larger zooplankton, fish, and mammals depend on these plankton for their survival.   Tying it all together, the bacterioplankton play an important role in the recycling and remineralization of materials and energy within the food chain. image of various phytoplankton

... and may be key indicators of ecosystem change.

image of zooplankton Numerous studies have shown a strong relationship between larval fish survival and the timing and production of their food (i.e., plankton).   The timing and production of plankton are in turn directly dependent on water temperature and nutrient availability (which is indirectly controlled by temperature-driven circulation patterns).   Changes in climate can affect the timing of the seasonal plankton blooms, with effects that pass up the food chain.   Longer term changes in climate may even change the plankton species composition, changing the feeding environment of the larval fish.

National Marine Fisheries Service  -  Science & Technology  -  Marine Ecosystems Division

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