Plankton are the diverse collection of organisms that live in large bodies of water and are unable to swim against a current.The individual organisms constituting plankton are called plankters. They provide a crucial source of food to many large aquatic organisms, such as fish and whales.
In biology, an organism is any individual entity that exhibits the properties of life. It is a synonym for "life form".
The hydrosphere is the combined mass of water found on, under, and above the surface of a planet, minor planet or natural satellite. Although the Earth's hydrosphere has been around for longer than 4 billion years, it continues to change in size. This is caused by seafloor spreading and continental drift, which rearranges the land and ocean.
Fish are gill-bearing aquatic craniate animals that lack limbs with digits. They form a sister group to the tunicates, together forming the olfactores. Included in this definition are the living hagfish, lampreys, and cartilaginous and bony fish as well as various extinct related groups. Tetrapods emerged within lobe-finned fishes, so cladistically they are fish as well. However, traditionally fish are rendered paraphyletic by excluding the tetrapods. Because in this manner the term "fish" is defined negatively as a paraphyletic group, it is not considered a formal taxonomic grouping in systematic biology, unless it is used in the cladistic sense, including tetrapods. The traditional term pisces is considered a typological, but not a phylogenetic classification.
These organisms include bacteria, archaea, algae, protozoa and drifting or floating animals that inhabit—for example—the pelagic zone of oceans, seas, or bodies of fresh water. Essentially, plankton are defined by their ecological niche rather than any phylogenetic or taxonomic classification.
Bacteria are a type of biological cell. They constitute a large domain of prokaryotic microorganisms. Typically a few micrometres in length, bacteria have a number of shapes, ranging from spheres to rods and spirals. Bacteria were among the first life forms to appear on Earth, and are present in most of its habitats. Bacteria inhabit soil, water, acidic hot springs, radioactive waste, and the deep portions of Earth's crust. Bacteria also live in symbiotic and parasitic relationships with plants and animals. Most bacteria have not been characterised, and only about half of the bacterial phyla have species that can be grown in the laboratory. The study of bacteria is known as bacteriology, a branch of microbiology.
Archaea constitute a domain of single-celled microorganisms. These microbes are prokaryotes, meaning they have no cell nucleus. Archaea were initially classified as bacteria, receiving the name archaebacteria, but this classification is outdated.
Algae is an informal term for a large, diverse group of photosynthetic eukaryotic organisms that are not necessarily closely related, and is thus polyphyletic. Including organisms ranging from unicellular microalgae genera, such as Chlorella and the diatoms, to multicellular forms, such as the giant kelp, a large brown alga which may grow up to 50 m in length. Most are aquatic and autotrophic and lack many of the distinct cell and tissue types, such as stomata, xylem, and phloem, which are found in land plants. The largest and most complex marine algae are called seaweeds, while the most complex freshwater forms are the Charophyta, a division of green algae which includes, for example, Spirogyra and the stoneworts.
Though many planktonic species are microscopic in size, plankton includes organisms over a wide range of sizes, including large organisms such as jellyfish.Technically the term does not include organisms on the surface of the water, which are called pleuston —or those that swim actively in the water, which are called nekton .
In biology, a species ( ) is the basic unit of classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction. Other ways of defining species include their karyotype, DNA sequence, morphology, behaviour or ecological niche. In addition, paleontologists use the concept of the chronospecies since fossil reproduction cannot be examined. While these definitions may seem adequate, when looked at more closely they represent problematic species concepts. For example, the boundaries between closely related species become unclear with hybridisation, in a species complex of hundreds of similar microspecies, and in a ring species. Also, among organisms that reproduce only asexually, the concept of a reproductive species breaks down, and each clone is potentially a microspecies.
The microscopic scale is the scale of objects and events smaller than those that can easily be seen by the naked eye, requiring a lens or microscope to see them clearly. In physics, the microscopic scale is sometimes regarded as the scale between the macroscopic scale and the quantum scale. Microscopic units and measurements are used to classify and describe very small objects. One common microscopic length scale unit is the micrometre, which is one millionth of a metre.
Jellyfish or sea jellies are the informal common names given to the medusa-phase of certain gelatinous members of the subphylum Medusozoa, a major part of the phylum Cnidaria. Jellyfish are mainly free-swimming marine animals with umbrella-shaped bells and trailing tentacles, although a few are not mobile, being anchored to the seabed by stalks. The bell can pulsate to provide propulsion and highly efficient locomotion. The tentacles are armed with stinging cells and may be used to capture prey and defend against predators. Jellyfish have a complex life cycle; the medusa is normally the sexual phase, the planula larva can disperse widely and is followed by a sedentary polyp phase.
The name plankton is derived from the Greek adjective πλαγκτός (planktos), meaning errant , and by extension, wanderer or drifter,and was coined by Victor Hensen in 1887. While some forms are capable of independent movement and can swim hundreds of meters vertically in a single day (a behavior called diel vertical migration), their horizontal position is primarily determined by the surrounding water movement, and plankton typically flow with ocean currents. This is in contrast to nekton organisms, such as fish, squid and marine mammals, which can swim against the ambient flow and control their position in the environment.
Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.
Christian Andreas Victor Hensen was a German zoologist (planktology). He coined the term plankton and laid the foundation for biological oceanography.
Diel vertical migration (DVM), also known as diurnal vertical migration, is a pattern of movement used by some organisms, such as copepods, living in the ocean and in lakes. The migration occurs when organisms move up to the epipelagic zone at night and return to the mesopelagic zone of the oceans or to the hypolimnion zone of lakes during the day. The word diel comes from the Latin dies day, and means a 24-hour period. In terms of biomass, it is the greatest migration in the world. It is not restricted to any one taxa as examples are known from crustaceans (copepods), molluscs (squid), and ray-finned fishes (trout). Various stimuli are responsible for this phenomenon, the most prominent being response to changes in light intensity, though evidence suggests that biological clocks are an underlying stimulus as well. The phenomenon may arise for a number of reasons, though it is most typically to access food and avoid predators. While this mass migration is generally nocturnal, with the animals ascending from the depths at nightfall and descending at sunrise, the timing can be altered in response to the different cues and stimuli that trigger it. Some unusual events impact vertical migration: DVM is absent during the midnight sun in Arctic regions and vertical migration can occur suddenly during a solar eclipse.
Within the plankton, holoplankton spend their entire life cycle as plankton (e.g. most algae, copepods, salps, and some jellyfish). By contrast, meroplankton are only planktic for part of their lives (usually the larval stage), and then graduate to either a nektic (swimming) or benthic (sea floor) existence. Examples of meroplankton include the larvae of sea urchins, starfish, crustaceans, marine worms, and most fish.
Holoplankton are organisms that are planktic for their entire life cycle. Examples of holoplankton include some diatoms, radiolarians, some dinoflagellates, foraminifera, amphipods, krill, copepods, and salps, as well as some gastropod mollusk species. Holoplankton dwell in the pelagic zone as opposed to the benthic zone. Holoplankton include both phytoplankton and zooplankton and vary in size. The most common plankton are protists.
In biology, a biological life cycle is a series of changes in form that an organism undergoes, returning to the starting state. "The concept is closely related to those of the life history, development and ontogeny, but differs from them in stressing renewal." Transitions of form may involve growth, asexual reproduction, or sexual reproduction.
Copepods are a group of small crustaceans found in nearly every freshwater and saltwater habitat. Some species are planktonic, some are benthic, and some continental species may live in limnoterrestrial habitats and other wet terrestrial places, such as swamps, under leaf fall in wet forests, bogs, springs, ephemeral ponds, and puddles, damp moss, or water-filled recesses (phytotelmata) of plants such as bromeliads and pitcher plants. Many live underground in marine and freshwater caves, sinkholes, or stream beds. Copepods are sometimes used as biodiversity indicators.
The amount and distribution of plankton depends on available nutrients, the state of water and a large amount of other plankton.
In ecology, local abundance is the relative representation of a species in a particular ecosystem. It is usually measured as the number of individuals found per sample. The ratio of abundance of one species to one or multiple other species living in an ecosystem is referred to as relative species abundances. Both indicators are relevant for computing biodiversity.
Species distribution is the manner in which a biological taxon is spatially arranged. The geographic limits of a particular taxon's distribution is its range, often represented as shaded areas on a map. Patterns of distribution change depending the scale at which they are viewed, from the arrangement of individuals within a small family unit, to patterns within a population, or the distribution of the entire species as a whole (range). Species distribution is not to be confused with dispersal, which is the movement of individuals away from their region of origin or from a population center of high density.
A water column is a conceptual column of water from the surface of a sea, river or lake to the bottom sediment. Descriptively, the deep sea water column is divided into five parts—pelagic zones —from the surface to below the floor, as follows: epipelagic, from the surface to 200 meters below the surface; mesopelagic, from 200 to 1000 meters below the surface; bathypelagic, from 1000 to 4000 meters below the surface; abyssopelagic, from 4000 meters below the surface to the level sea floor; hadopelagic, depressions and crevices below the level sea floor.
The study of plankton is termed planktology and a planktonic individual is referred to as a plankter.The adjective planktonic is widely used in both the scientific and popular literature, and is a generally accepted term. However, from the standpoint of prescriptive grammar, the less-commonly used planktic is more strictly the correct adjective. When deriving English words from their Greek or Latin roots, the gender-specific ending (in this case, "-on" which indicates the word is neuter) is normally dropped, using only the root of the word in the derivation.
Plankton are primarily divided into broad functional (or trophic level) groups:
This scheme divides the plankton community into broad producer, consumer and recycler groups. However, determining the trophic level of many plankton is not always straightforward. For example, although most dinoflagellates are either photosynthetic producers or heterotrophic consumers, many species perform both roles. In this mixed trophic strategy — known as mixotrophy — organisms act as both producers and consumers, either at the same time or switching between modes of nutrition in response to ambient conditions. For instance, relying on photosynthesis for growth when nutrients and light are abundant, but switching to predation when growing conditions are poor. Recognition of the importance of mixotrophy as an ecological strategy is increasing,as well as the wider role this may play in marine biogeochemistry.
Plankton are also often described in terms of size.Usually the following divisions are used:
|Megaplankton||> 20 cm||metazoans; e.g. jellyfish; ctenophores; salps and pyrosomes (pelagic Tunicata); Cephalopoda; Amphipoda|
|Macroplankton||2→20 cm||metazoans; e.g. Pteropods; Chaetognaths; Euphausiacea (krill); Medusae; ctenophores; salps, doliolids and pyrosomes (pelagic Tunicata); Cephalopoda; Janthinidae (one family of gastropods); Amphipoda|
|Mesoplankton||0.2→20 mm||metazoans; e.g. copepods; Medusae; Cladocera; Ostracoda; Chaetognaths; Pteropods; Tunicata|
|Microplankton||20→200 µm||large eukaryotic protists; most phytoplankton; Protozoa Foraminifera; tintinnids; other ciliates; Rotifera; juvenile metazoans - Crustacea (copepod nauplii)|
|Nanoplankton||2→20 µm||small eukaryotic protists; Small Diatoms; Small Flagellates; Pyrrophyta; Chrysophyta; Chlorophyta; Xanthophyta|
|Picoplankton||0.2→2 µm||small eukaryotic protists; bacteria; Chrysophyta|
|Femtoplankton||< 0.2 µm||marine viruses|
However, some of these terms may be used with very different boundaries, especially on the larger end. The existence and importance of nano- and even smaller plankton was only discovered during the 1980s, but they are thought to make up the largest proportion of all plankton in number and diversity.
The microplankton and smaller groups are microorganisms and operate at low Reynolds numbers, where the viscosity of water is much more important than its mass or inertia.
Plankton inhabit oceans, seas, lakes, ponds. Local abundance varies horizontally, vertically and seasonally. The primary cause of this variability is the availability of light. All plankton ecosystems are driven by the input of solar energy (but see chemosynthesis), confining primary production to surface waters, and to geographical regions and seasons having abundant light.
A secondary variable is nutrient availability. Although large areas of the tropical and sub-tropical oceans have abundant light, they experience relatively low primary production because they offer limited nutrients such as nitrate, phosphate and silicate. This results from large-scale ocean circulation and water column stratification. In such regions, primary production usually occurs at greater depth, although at a reduced level (because of reduced light).
Despite significant macronutrient concentrations, some ocean regions are unproductive (so-called HNLC regions).The micronutrient iron is deficient in these regions, and adding it can lead to the formation of phytoplankton blooms. Iron primarily reaches the ocean through the deposition of dust on the sea surface. Paradoxically, oceanic areas adjacent to unproductive, arid land thus typically have abundant phytoplankton (e.g., the eastern Atlantic Ocean, where trade winds bring dust from the Sahara Desert in north Africa).
While plankton are most abundant in surface waters, they live throughout the water column. At depths where no primary production occurs, zooplankton and bacterioplankton instead consume organic material sinking from more productive surface waters above. This flux of sinking material, so-called marine snow, can be especially high following the termination of spring blooms.
Aside from representing the bottom few levels of a food chain that supports commercially important fisheries, plankton ecosystems play a role in the biogeochemical cycles of many important chemical elements, including the ocean's carbon cycle.
Primarily by grazing on phytoplankton, zooplankton provide carbon to the planktic foodweb, either respiring it to provide metabolic energy, or upon death as biomass or detritus. Organic material tends to be denser than seawater, so it sinks into open ocean ecosystems away from the coastlines, transporting carbon along with it. This process, called the biological pump , is one reason that oceans constitute the largest carbon sink on Earth. However, it has been shown to be influenced by increments of temperature.
It might be possible to increase the ocean's uptake of carbon dioxide (CO
2) generated through human activities by increasing plankton production through seeding , primarily with the micronutrient iron. However, this technique may not be practical at a large scale. Ocean oxygen depletion and resultant methane production (caused by the excess production remineralising at depth) is one potential drawback.
Phytoplankton absorb energy from the Sun and nutrients from the water to produce their own nourishment or energy. In the process of photosynthesis, phytoplankton release molecular oxygen (O
2) into the water as a waste biproduct. It is estimated that about 50% of the world's oxygen is produced via phytoplankton photosynthesis. The rest is produced via photosynthesis on land by plants. Furthermore, phytoplankton photosynthesis has controlled the atmospheric CO
2 balance since the early Precambrian Eon.
The growth of phytoplankton populations is dependent on light levels and nutrient availability. The chief factor limiting growth varies from region to region in the world's oceans. On a broad scale, growth of phytoplankton in the oligotrophic tropical and subtropical gyres is generally limited by nutrient supply, while light often limits phytoplankton growth in subarctic gyres. Environmental variability at multiple scales influences the nutrient and light available for phytoplankton, and as these organisms form the base of the marine food web, this variability in phytoplankton growth influences higher trophic levels. For example, at interannual scales phytoplankton levels temporarily plummet during El Niño periods, influencing populations of zooplankton, fishes, sea birds, and marine mammals.
The effects of anthropogenic warming on the global population of phytoplankton is an area of active research. Changes in the vertical stratification of the water column, the rate of temperature-dependent biological reactions, and the atmospheric supply of nutrients are expected to have important impacts on future phytoplankton productivity.Additionally, changes in the mortality of phytoplankton due to rates of zooplankton grazing may be significant.
Freshly hatched fish larvae are also plankton for a few days, as long as it takes before they can swim against currents.
Zooplankton are the initial prey item for almost all fish larvae as they switch from their yolk sacs to external feeding. Fish rely on the density and distribution of zooplankton to match that of new larvae, which can otherwise starve. Natural factors (e.g., current variations) and man-made factors (e.g. river dams) can strongly affect zooplankton, which can in turn strongly affect larval survival, and therefore breeding success.
The importance of both phytoplankton and zooplankton is also well-recognized in extensive and semi-intensive pond fish farming. Plankton population based pond management strategies for fish rearing have been practised by traditional fish farmers for decades, illustrating the importance of plankton even in man-made environments.
Phytoplankton are the autotrophic (self-feeding) components of the plankton community and a key part of oceans, seas and freshwater basin ecosystems. The name comes from the Greek words φυτόν (phyton), meaning "plant", and πλαγκτός (planktos), meaning "wanderer" or "drifter". Most phytoplankton are too small to be individually seen with the unaided eye. However, when present in high enough numbers, some varieties may be noticeable as colored patches on the water surface due to the presence of chlorophyll within their cells and accessory pigments in some species.
Zooplankton are heterotrophic plankton. Plankton are organisms drifting in oceans, seas, and bodies of fresh water. The word zooplankton is derived from the Greek zoon (ζῴον), meaning "animal", and planktos (πλαγκτός), meaning "wanderer" or "drifter". Individual zooplankton are usually microscopic, but some are larger and visible to the naked eye.
The pelagic zone consists of the water column of the open ocean, and can be further divided into regions by depth. The word "pelagic" is derived from Ancient Greek πέλαγος (pélagos), meaning 'open sea'. The pelagic zone can be thought of in terms of an imaginary cylinder or water column that goes from the surface of the sea almost to the bottom. Conditions differ deeper in the water column such that as pressure increases with depth, the temperature drops and less light penetrates. Depending on the depth, the water column, rather like the Earth's atmosphere, may be divided into different layers.
Meroplankton is a wide variety of planktonic organisms, which spend a portion of their lives in the benthic region of the ocean. These organisms do not remain as plankton permanently, rather, they are planktonic components in transition, which eventually become larger organisms. After a period of time in the plankton, meroplankton either graduate to the nekton or adopt a benthic lifestyle on the seafloor. Meroplankton consists of larval stages of organisms such as sea urchins, starfish, and crustaceans. Success of meroplankton populations depends on many factors, such as adult fecundity, fertilization success, growth and larval stage duration, behaviour, dispersal, and settlement. Mortality depends on many factors, such as predation, competition, disease, parasites, and physiological stresses. Survival and mortality of meroplankton has a direct effect on adult population numbers of many species. Many of the common, well-known animals found on the Great Barrier Reef spend time as free-swimming meroplankton, bearing little or no resemblance to the adult they will become. The differences between the appearance of larval and adult stages led to much confusion in the past when larval forms were often believed to be completely different species from the adults. Larvae spend varying amounts of time in the plankton, from minutes to over a year. However, just how long these tiny animals can be considered truly planktonic is under some debate.
A pycnocline is the cline or layer where the density gradient is greatest within a body of water. An ocean current is generated by the forces such as breaking waves, temperature and salinity differences, wind, Coriolis effect, and tides caused by the gravitational pull of the Moon and the Sun. In addition, the physical properties in a pycnocline driven by density gradients also affect the flows and vertical profiles in the ocean. These changes can be connected to the transport of heat, salt, and nutrients through the ocean, and the pycnocline diffusion controls upwelling.
High-nutrient, low-chlorophyll (HNLC) regions are regions of the ocean where the abundance of phytoplankton is low and fairly constant despite the availability of macronutrients. Phytoplankton rely on a suite of nutrients for cellular function. Macronutrients are generally available in higher quantities in surface ocean waters, and are the typical components of common garden fertilizers. Micronutrients are generally available in lower quantities and include trace metals. Macronutrients are typically available in millimolar concentrations, while micronutrients are generally available in micro- to nanomolar concentrations. In general, nitrogen tends to be a limiting ocean nutrient, but in HNLC regions it is never significantly depleted. Instead, these regions tend to be limited by low concentrations of metabolizable iron. Iron is a critical phytoplankton micronutrient necessary for enzyme catalysis and electron transport.
A lake ecosystem includes biotic (living) plants, animals and micro-organisms, as well as abiotic (nonliving) physical and chemical interactions.
Picoplankton is the fraction of plankton composed by cells between 0.2 and 2 μm that can be either prokaryotic and eukaryotic phototrophs and heterotrophs:
The microbial loop describes a trophic pathway in the marine microbial food web where dissolved organic carbon (DOC) is returned to higher trophic levels via its incorporation into bacterial biomass, and then coupled with the classic food chain formed by phytoplankton-zooplankton-nekton. The term microbial loop was coined by Farooq Azam and Tom Fenchel et al. to include the role played by bacteria in the carbon and nutrient cycles of the marine environment.
The microbial food web refers to the combined trophic interactions among microbes in aquatic environments. These microbes include viruses, bacteria, algae, heterotrophic protists.
Nanophytoplankton are particularly small phytoplankton with sizes between 2 and 20 µm. They are the autotrophic part of nanoplankton. Like other phytoplankton, nanophytoplankton are microscopic organisms that obtain energy through the process of photosynthesis and must therefore live in the upper sunlit layer of ocean or other bodies of water. These microscopic free-floating organisms, including algae, and cyanobacteria, fix large amounts of carbon which would otherwise be released as carbon dioxide.. The term nanophytoplankton is derived from the far more widely used term nannoplankton/nanoplankton.
In the deep ocean, marine snow is a continuous shower of mostly organic detritus falling from the upper layers of the water column. It is a significant means of exporting energy from the light-rich photic zone to the aphotic zone below. The term was first coined by the explorer William Beebe as he observed it from his bathysphere. As the origin of marine snow lies in activities within the productive photic zone, the prevalence of marine snow changes with seasonal fluctuations in photosynthetic activity and ocean currents. Marine snow can be an important food source for organisms living in the aphotic zone, particularly for organisms which live very deep in the water column.
Bacterioplankton refers to the bacterial component of the plankton that drifts in the water column. The name comes from the Ancient Greek word πλανκτος, meaning "wanderer" or "drifter", and bacterium, a Latin term coined in the 19th century by Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg. They are found in both seawater and freshwater.
The North Pacific Subtropical Gyre (NPSG) is the largest contiguous ecosystem on earth. In oceanography, a subtropical gyre is a ring-like system of ocean currents rotating clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counterclockwise in the Southern Hemisphere caused by the Coriolis Effect. They generally form in large open ocean areas that lie between land masses.
A mixotroph is an organism that can use a mix of different sources of energy and carbon, instead of having a single trophic mode on the continuum from complete autotrophy at one end to heterotrophy at the other.
A planktivore is an aquatic organism that feeds on planktonic food, including zooplankton and phytoplankton.
Mycoplankton are saprotropic members of the plankton communities of marine and freshwater ecosystems. They are composed of filamentous free-living fungi and yeasts that are associated with planktonic particles or phytoplankton. Similar to bacterioplankton, these aquatic fungi play a significant role in heterotrophic mineralization and nutrient cycling. Mycoplankton can be up to 20 mm in diameter and over 50 mm in length.
Dinoflagellates are eukaryotic plankton, existing in marine and freshwater environments. Previously, dinoflagellates had been grouped into two categories, phagotrophs and phototrophs. Mixotrophs, however include a combination of phagotrophy and phototrophy. Mixotrophic dinoflagellates are a sub-type of planktonic dinoflagellates and are part of the phylum Dinoflagellata. They are flagellated eukaryotes that combine photoautotrophy when light is available, and heterotrophy via phagocytosis. Dinoflagellates are one of the most diverse and numerous species of phytoplankton, second to diatoms.
Bacterioplankton counting is the estimation of the abundance of bacterioplankton in a specific body of water, which is useful information to marine microbiologists. Various counting methodologies have been developed over the years to determine the number present in the water being observed. Methods used for counting bacterioplankton include epifluorescence microscopy, flow cytometry, measures of productivity through frequency of dividing cells (FDC), thymine incorporation, and leucine incorporation.
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