What is ZOOPLANKTON - definition, characteristics and examples

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Many of the environmental alterations caused by current climate change, such as the increase in temperature, directly affect the change in marine and ocean currents, as well as the desiccation of lentic aquatic systems during droughts, with the consequent death of biodiversity aquatic, including zooplankton. Faced with these ecological alterations, the study of planktonic communities plays a very important role, since by knowing the biotic and abiotic factors that participate in the regulation of the dynamics and structure of aquatic ecosystems, we can facilitate their protection and conservation.

Continue reading this Green Ecologist article to immerse yourself in the amazing aquatic world and discover what is zooplankton, as well as its importance and many examples of the organisms that compose it.

What is zooplankton - definition and characteristics

Zooplankton, or animal plankton, is the term that receives the set of all and those living organisms belonging to the Animal Kingdom that float errantly within the First 200 meters deep of many of the aquatic ecosystems of the planet.

These animals constituting the zooplankton are usually chiefly microscopic in size, and, together with the phytoplankton or plant plankton, fill the fresh and salty waters of aquatic ecosystems with suspended life. Let's see in the following list more characteristics of zooplankton:

  • The organisms that make up zooplankton are heterotrophs, feeding on primary producers such as phytoplankton, as well as other animal components of zooplankton, and other microorganisms in suspension, such as decomposing bacteria and organic waste.
  • They have high growth rates and short life spans.
  • Zooplankton is considered one of the essential components of the biological communities of aquatic systems, occupying the position of primary consumer in the trophic chains and being the link that unites the autotrophic organisms of producers (phytoplankton) with secondary consumers (fish, marine mammals, some birds and all kinds of invertebrates).
  • Zooplankton is present both in open sea aquatic ecosystems (seas and oceans of the world), and in freshwater lentic ecosystems (lakes, ponds, etc.).

Zooplankton: Examples

As mentioned above, the animals that are part of zooplankton They are primarily microscopic organisms, so many of them may be largely unknown if we are not familiar with the taxonomic groups of invertebrate animals. Probably krill (Meganyctiphanes norvegica) It is the best-known animal of zooplankton, but what about the other animals that compose it? In the next list of zooplankton examples that you will be able to learn the name of many of them:

  • Copepods.
  • Cladoceros.
  • Rotifers
  • Ctenophores.
  • Siphonophores.
  • Pelagic polychaetes.
  • Ostracods.
  • Echinoderm larvae.
  • Small crustaceans, such as decapods, and their characteristic nauplii-type larvae.
  • Eggs, larvae and juveniles of some species of fish.

Importance of zooplankton

As a component of trophic chains of aquatic ecosystems, the presence of zooplankton is essential for the correct functioning and optimal balance of these ecosystems. According to the specific composition and vital characteristics of said zooplankton, it is possible to know the state of well-being or, on the contrary, the deficiencies of the aquatic biological systems and communities, so we can affirm that zooplankton is an excellent quality indicator of aquatic ecosystems.

In addition, zooplankton plays a very important role within planktonic interactions, that is, in the biological relationships that occur between organisms that are part of the zooplankton-phytoplankton, as well as within the zooplankton itself.

On the other hand, the amazing biodiversity that characterizes the composition of zooplankton It is considered one of the most important natural resources of aquatic ecosystems, since they guarantee the upwelling of nutrients and animals from other links in the food chain during such important natural phenomena as, for example, El Niño.

Difference between zooplankton and phytoplankton

As we have seen previously, both zooplankton and phytoplankton are part of the planktonic communities that serve as food for numerous animals, thus maintaining the balance of food chains of aquatic ecosystems. However, there are several differences between the two groups of aquatic organisms. These are the main differences between zooplankton and phytoplankton:

  • As their own names indicate, zooplankton is made up of animal species, while phytoplankton is made up of plant species.
  • They are heterotrophic and autotrophic organisms, respectively.
  • Zooplankton is distributed at any depth within the first 200 meters of open ocean ecosystems, while phytoplankton are found only in the highest layers, those that receive sunlight.

To finish knowing these organisms, we recommend you read these other articles by Green Ecologist about What is phytoplankton and What is plankton and its importance.

If you want to read more articles similar to What is zooplankton, we recommend that you enter our Biodiversity category.

  • Conde, J.M., Ramos, E. & Morales, R. (2004) Zooplankton as a member of the trophic structure of lentic ecosystems. Ecosystems, Scientific Journal of Ecology and Environment. Volume 13 (2).
  • Lavaniegos, B. et, al. (2009) Seasonal and interannual variability of zooplankton. Ensenada Center for Scientific Research and Higher Education. Department of Biological Oceanography, Baja California, pp: 87-120.
  • Sabatini, M.E .; Giménez, J. & Rocco, V. (2001) Characteristics of the zooplankton of the coastal area of the southern Patagonian shelf (Argentina). Magazine Bulletin of the Spanish Institute of Oceanography.
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