What is a Phytoplankton?
Phytoplankton is tiny animals that consist largely of water, cells, fungus, and debris (mostly ultrafine). Phytoplankton is an organism larger than a bacterium but smaller than a single cell in the human body. So a big fish eats a little fish and vice versa. The larger organisms eat phytoplankton for food and there are numerous animals and plants that depend on phytoplankton for survival.
Why Phytoplankton Is Important to Our Planet
Did you know “Phytoplankton are feeding a growing global population of people and animals, increasing biodiversity, and absorbing a greater amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere?” That would be true even if you ate fish that weren’t the phytoplankton species (that’d be a whale). Phytoplankton play an important role in regulating ocean acidification through an intricate process known as zooxanthellae. As their name suggests, zooxanthellae are stages in algae splitting (breaking down). Algae produce less carbon dioxide as they split, but because they are so abundant, these marine plants keep process going. There are different species and varieties of zooxanthellae species to consider: broad-leaved come from warm temperate waters while fine-leaved from cold water settings.
Phytoplankton and aquatic food web
Phytoplankton are the foundation of the aquatic food web, and they play an important role in the functioning of ecosystems beyond their own size. They provide “fixing” nutrients in larger quantities. They break down organic matter to release minerals and other substances for use by larger organisms. They are often eaten by organisms of all sizes, but may accumulate abnormal densities and – depending on their particular circumstances – may serve as major intermediate or end consumers.
Phytoplankton and oceanic food web
Phytoplankton are perhaps most famous for their starring role in the global oceanic food web. In the ocean, they provide some of the planet’s best food for everyone: about 70% of the calories we consume are from phytoplankton. Other nutrients are taken up by phytoplankton and passed along, either in their excretions or through in-feedings of other organisms. Once abundant, they are now declining at an unprecedented rate. They are at the mercy of global warming, acidification (called an ‘eating contest’ by some), overfishing (not helping) and pollution from human activities. This problem is global, and it is not limited to certain areas of the world.