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Zooplankton

Zooplankton

The word "plankton" refers to the floating marine organisms that live on the surface of oceans. These organisms can be plants or animals. The plant forms are microscopic algae whose photosynthesis reactions provide the Earth's atmosphere with the majority of its oxygen. The other type of plankton, composed of tiny animals, is called zooplankton.

Zooplankton is made up of hundreds of thousands of different species of animals. Some are baby or larval forms of the animals while others spend their whole life as free-floating organisms. The entire scope of species of zooplankton is enough for scientists to have identified whole communities of these organisms. These communities are very dynamic in that they change their structure and populations on a seasonal basis.

Many members of a zooplankton community begin their lives in estuaries where crabs, fishes, and a whole host of various invertebrates come to breed. The calm and relatively shallow waters of an estuary provide a safe place for eggs to survive and hatch. Upon hatching, the tiny larvae are too small to succumb to the effects of gravity in the water and so begin their journeys as floating animals.

In many species of zooplankton, the larval forms look nothing like the adults they will become. A remarkable example is the flounder fish. It starts its life as a small larval floating form that looks very much like a common fish. It drifts in the water for about forty or forty-five days until it begins its transformation into a bottom-dwelling flat adult. While drifting in the ocean it feeds on other plankton and begins to grow until it begins its juvenile phase. As a juvenile, it drifts to the ocean bottom and flattens out, with one of its eyes rotating around its head to sit next to the other eye. As a bottom-dwelling adult it becomes a flat fish with eyes on the upper surface of its body. Then it is ready to produce more planktonic larvae.

Many members of the zooplankton community feed on other members of the population, and in turn become the meals of other larger predators. Eventually, the whole zooplankton community becomes the bottom of a food chain for an entire food web stretching from the smallest fish to the largest whale. Many of the ocean's largest animals feed on zooplankton. Many whales have feeding structures called baleen that filter the zooplankton from the water. In the polar regions, a small component of the zooplankton community called krill is the basic diet of the many summer-feeding whales.

One of the benefits of becoming a pelagic, or open ocean-dwelling, organism for a specific population is that the drifting currents move the offspring from one place to another. This ensures species distribution, which is critical to the survival of many species. It keeps genetic diversity high and populations healthy.

The waterborne distribution of zooplankton helps its population survive harsh environmental conditions such as freezing, high heat, large storms, and other severe natural phenomena. Because riding the ocean currents distributes many species worldwide, only small portions of a population may be seriously affected by these conditions.

For many planktonic forms, their lifestyleas organisms suspended on the ocean surface, means that they can avoid unfavorable conditions in the deeper regions of the water column. Those species that eventually drift to the bottom and complete their metamorphosis avoid some forms of predation until they are of a suitable size or form to avoid attack.

One of the concerns raised by the increasing depletion of the ozone layer is how the increased influx of ultraviolet radiation that it causes will affect zooplankton. Because they are the basis of the food chain for a great many animals in lakes and oceans, many scientists and others are concerned that the tiny covering around these larval animals may not be strong enough to withstand the impact of increased radiation. As in all food web chains, the zooplankton provide a foundation for so many other and larger food species that some forms of higher predators may be seriously impacted.

Until the increasing ozone loss is curbed, the protection of estuaries, deltas, and other coastal planktonic breeding grounds is crucial for the continued production of zooplankton. More and more, scientists are discovering how important zooplankton are for the health of the marine ecosystems.

see also Food Web; Plankton.

Brook Ellen Hall

Bibliography

Pechnik, J. Biology of the Invertebrates. Boston: Prindle, Weber, & Schmidt, 1985.

Nybakken, J. Marine Biology: an Ecological Approach. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

Moyle, P., and J. Chech Jr. Fishes: An Introduction to Icthyology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996.

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Zooplankton

Zooplankton

Zooplankton are small animals that occur in the water column of either marine or freshwater ecosystems. Zooplankton are a diverse group defined on the basis of their size and function, rather than on their taxonomic affinities.

Most species in the zooplankton community fall into three major groupsCrustacea, Rotifers, and Protozoas. Crustaceans are generally the most abundant, especially those in the order Cladocera (waterfleas), and the class Copepoda (the copepods), particularly the orders Calanoida and Cyclopoida. Cladocerans are typically most abundant in fresh water, with common genera including Daphnia and Bosmina. Commonly observed genera of marine calanoid copepods include Calanus, Pseudocalanus, and Diaptomus, while abundant cyclopoid copepods include Cyclops and Mesocyclops. Other crustaceans in the zooplankton include species of opossum shrimps (order Mysidacea), amphipods (order Amphipoda), and fairy shrimp (order Anostraca). Rotifers (phylum Rotifera) are also found in the zooplankton, as are protozoans (kingdom Protista). Insects may also be important, especially in fresh waters close to the shoreline.

Most zooplankton are secondary consumers, that is, they are herbivores that graze on phytoplankton, or on unicellular or colonial algae suspended in the water column. The productivity of the zooplankton community is ultimately limited by the productivity of the small algae upon which they feed. There are times when the biomass of the zooplankton at any given time may be similar to, or even exceed, that of the phytoplankton. This occurs because the animals of the zooplankton are relatively long-lived compared with the algal cells upon which they feed, so the turnover of their biomass is much less rapid. Some members of the zooplankton are detritivores, feeding on suspended organic detritus. Some species of zooplankton are predators, feeding on other species of zooplankton, and some spend part of their lives as parasites of larger animals, such as fish.

Zooplankton are important in the food webs of open-water ecosystems, in both marine and fresh waters. Zooplankton are eaten by relatively small fish (called planktivorous fish), which are then eaten by larger fish. Zooplankton are an important link in the transfer of energy from the algae (the primary producers) to the ecologically and economically important fish community (the consumers).

Species of zooplankton vary in their susceptibility to environmental stressors, such as exposure to toxic chemicals, acidification of the water, eutrophication and oxygen depletion, or changes in temperature. As a result, the species assemblages (or communities) of zooplankton are indicators of environmental quality and ecological change.

See also Bioremediation; Indicator species; Water pollution and purification

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zooplankton

zooplankton The animal component of plankton. All major animal phyla are represented in zooplankton, as adults, larvae, or eggs; some are just visible to the naked eye but most cannot be seen without magnification. Near the surface of the sea there may be many thousands of such animals per cubic metre.

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zooplankton

zooplankton Animal portion of the plankton. It consists of a wide variety of micro-organisms, including copepod and larval forms of higher animals. It is an important constituent of the ocean's food chain. There are few levels or areas of the ocean that have no zooplankton.

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zooplankton

zo·o·plank·ton / ˈzōəˌplangktən/ • n. Biol. plankton consisting of small animals and the immature stages of larger animals.

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zooplankton

zooplankton: see marine biology.

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zooplankton

zooplankton See plankton.

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"zooplankton." A Dictionary of Ecology. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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zooplankton

zooplankton See plankton.

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zooplankton

zooplankton See PLANKTON.

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