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Zooplankton. Planktos: “drifts” in greek. Their distribution depends on currents and gyres Certain zooplankton can swim well, but distribution controlled by current patterns

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planktos drifts in greek
Planktos: “drifts” in greek
  • Their distribution depends on currents and gyres
  • Certain zooplankton can swim well, but distribution controlled by current patterns
  • Zooplankton: all heterotrophic plankton except bacteria and viruses; size range from 2 µm (heterotrophic flagellates, protists) up to several meters (jellyfish)
nutritional modes in zooplankton
Nutritional modes in zooplankton
  • Herbivores: feed primarily on phytoplankton
  • Carnivores: feed primarily on other zooplankton (animals)
  • Detrivores: feed primarily on dead organic matter (detritus) 
  • Omnivores: feed on mixed diet of plants and animals and detritus
feeding modes in zooplankton
Feeding modes in Zooplankton
  • Filter feeders
  • Predators – catch individual particles
filter feeder8
Filter Feeder




Arrow Worm

life cycles in zooplankton
Life cycles in Zooplankton
  • Holoplankton: spend entire life in the water column (pelagic)
  • Meroplankton: spend only part of their life in the pelagic environment, mostly larval forms of invertebrates and fish
  • Ichthyoplankton: fish eggs and fish larvae


Planktonic crustaceans

barnacles benthic sessile crustacean
Barnacles: benthic sessile crustacean


Nauplius larva


Cypris larva


Cypris larva and metamorphosed juveniles

barnacle population regulation
Barnacle population regulation




Gadus morhua



Gadus morhua




Gadus morhua




Atlantic cod

Gadus morhua

Demersal Adult

protists protozooplankton
Protists: Protozooplankton
  • Dinoflagellates: heterotrophic relatives to the phototrophic Dinophyceae; naked and thecate forms. Noctiluca miliaris – up to 1 mm or bigger, bioluminescence, prey on fish egg & zooplankton
  • Zooflagellates: heterotrophic nanoflagellates (HNF): taxonomically mixed group of small, naked flagellates, feed on bacteria and small phytoplankton; choanoflagellates: collar around flagella
  • Foraminifera: relatives of amoeba with calcareous shell, which is composed of a series of chambers; contribute to ooze sediments; 30 µm to 1-2 mm, bacteriovores; most abundant 40°N – 40°S


Noctiluca miliaris


Colonial choanoflagellates

Bacteriofages (Ross Sea)

protists protozooplankton27
Protists: Protozooplankton
  • Radiolaria:spherical, amoeboid cells with silica capsule; 50 µm to several mm; contribute to silica ooze sediments, feed on bacteria, small phyto- and zooplankton; cold water and deep-sea
  • Ciliates:feed on bacteria, phytoplankton, HNF; naked forms more abundant but hard to study (delicate!); tintinnids: sub-group of ciliates with vase-like external shell made of protein; herbivores
figure 3 21b
Figure 3.21b

Radiolarians (siliceous – low latitudes)


Live Radiolarian

invertebrate holoplankton
Invertebrate Holoplankton
  • Cnidaria: primitive group of metazoans; some holoplanktonic, others have benthis stages; carnivorous (crustaceans, fish); long tentacles carry nematocysts used to inject venoms into prey; box jellyfish of Australia kills humans within minutes
    • Medusae: single organisms, few mm to several meters
    • Siphonophores: colonies of animals with specialization: feeding polyps, reproductive polyps, swimming polyps; Physalia physalis (Portuguese man-of-war), common in tropical waters, Gulf of Mexico, drifted by the wind and belong to the pleuston (live on top of water surface)
invertebrate holoplankton35
Invertebrate Holoplankton
  • Ctenophores:separate phylum, do not belong to Cnidaria; transparent organisms, swimm with fused cilia; no nematocysts; prey on zooplankton, fish eggs, sometimes small fish; important to fisheries due to grazing on fish eggs and competition for fish food
  • Chaetognaths: arrow worms, carnivorous, <4 cm Polychaets: Tomopteris spp. only important planktonic genus
invertebrate holoplankton38
Invertebrate Holoplankton
  • Mollusca: 
    • Heteropods: small group of pelagic relatives of snails, snail foot developed into a single “fin”; good eyes, visual predators
    • Pteropods: snail foot developed into paired “wings”; suspension feeder – produce large mucous nets to capture prey; carbonate shells produce pteropod ooze on sea floor


protochordate holoplankton
Protochordate Holoplankton
  • Appendicularia: group of Chordata, live in gelatinous balloons (house) that are periodically abandoned; empty houses provide valuable carbon source for bacteria and help to form marine snow; filter feeders of nanoplankton
  • Salps or Tunicates:group of Chordata, mostly warm water; typically barrel-form, filter feeders; occur in swarms, which can wipe the water clean of nanoplankton; large fecal bands, transport of nano- and picoplankton to deep-sea; single or colonies
arthropoda crustacean zooplankton
Arthropoda: crustacean zooplankton
  • Cladocera (water fleas): six marine species (Podon spp., Evadne spp.), one brackish water species in the Baltic Sea; fast reproduction by parthenogenesis (without males and egg fertilization) and pedogenesis (young embryos initiate parthenogenetic reproduction before hatching)
  • Amphipoda: less abundant in pelagic environment, common genus Themisto; frequently found on siphonophores, medusae, ctenophores, salps
  • Euphausiida: krill; 15-100 mm, pronounced vertical migration; not plankton sensu strictu; visual predators, fast swimmers, often undersampled because they escape plankton nets; important as prey for commercial fish (herring, mackerel, salmon, tuna) and whales (Antarctica)

arthropoda crustacean zooplankton49
Arthropoda: crustacean zooplankton
  • Copepoda:most abundant zooplankton in the oceans, “insects of the sea“; herbivorous, carnivorous and omnivorous species
    • Calanoida: most of marine planktonic species
    • Cyclopoida: most of freshwater planktonic species
    • Harpacticoida: mostly benthic/near-bottom species
  • Copepod development: first six larval stages = nauplius (pl. nauplii), followed by six copepodit stages (CI to CVI)
  • Tropical species distinct by their long antennae and setae on antennae and legs (podi)
common meroplankton
Common Meroplankton
  • Mollusca: clams and snails produce shelled veliger larvae; ciliated velum serves for locomotion and food collection
  • Cirripedia: barnacles produce nauplii, which turn to cypris 
  • Echinodermata: sea urchins, starfish and sea cucumber produce pluteus larvae of different shapes, which turn into brachiolaria larvae (starfish); metamorphosis to adult is very complex
  • Polychaeta: brittle worms and other worms produce trochophora larvae, mostly barrel- shaped with several bands of cilia
common meroplankton53
Common Meroplankton
  • Decapoda: shrimps and crabs produce zoëa larvae; they turn into megalopa larvae in crabs before settling to the sea floor
  • Pisces: fish eggs and larvae referred to as ichthyoplankton; fish larvae retain part of the egg yolk in a sack below their body until mouth and stomach are fully developed
meroplanktonic larvae
Meroplanktonic Larvae
  • Planktotrophic
    • Feeding larvae
    • Longer Planktonic Duration Times
    • High dispersal potential
  • Lecithotrophic (non-feeding)
    • Non-feeding larvae
    • Shorter planktonic Duration Times
    • Low dispersal potential


Meroplankonic Veliger larvae


vertical distribution
Vertical Distribution
  • Epipelagic: upper 200-300 m water column; high diversity, mostly small and transparent organisms; many herbivores
  • Mesopelagic = 300 – 1000 m; larger than epipelagic relatives; large forms of gelatinous zooplankton (jellyfish, appendicularians) due to lack of wave action; some larger species (krill) partly herbivorous with nightly migration into epipelagic regimes 
  • Oxygen Minimum Zone: 400 – 800 m depth, accumulation of fecal material due to density gradient, attract high bacterial growth, which in turn attracts many bacterial and larger grazers; strong respiration reduces O2 content from 4-6 mg l-1 to < 2 mg l-1
  • Bathypelagic: 1000 – 3000 m depth, many dark red colored, smaller eyes
  • Abyssopelagic: > 3000 m depth, low diversity and low abundance
  • Demersal or epibenthic: live near or temporarily on the seafloor; mostly crustaceans (shrimp and mysids) and fish
diel vertical migration
Diel Vertical Migration
  • DAILY (diel) vertical migrations over distances of <100 to >800 m
    • Nocturnal: single daily ascent beginning at sunset, and single daily descent beginning at sunrise
    • Twilight: two ascents and descents per day (one each assoc. with each twilight period)
    • Reversed: single ascent to surface during day, and descent to max. depth during night
exotic planktonic species
Exotic Planktonic species

New England Ctenophore  Black Sea


Water Tank Ballast

  • Holoplankton
  • Meroplankton
black sea ballast invasions69
Black Sea Ballast Invasions


Beroe ovata