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Phytoplankton:

The Foundation Of The Ocean Food Chain

The term phytoplankton comes from the Greek terms (phyton) which means "plant" and (planktos) which means "drifter" or "wanderer". Most of these organisms are microscopic in nature and cannot be seen individually with the naked eye. It should be noted, however, that when high concentrations of these organisms are found in a given area they may be viewed as a type of green discoloration in the water. This discoloring effect is caused by the varying levels of the chemical chlorophyll within the cells of the organisms. Other colors may be seen instead of green based on the type of phytoplanktic being in evidence.

Table of Contents:

1. Ecology

The phytoplanktic lifeforms found in both fresh water and sea water are the direct foundation of that ecosystems food chain. This is especially true for the ocean. When at least two currents in the ocean collide they will create eddies. The phytoplanktic organisms in the area will begin to concentrate along the edges of these eddies in a motion that traces the water's flow.

The organisms are nature's primary solar energy collectors. Utilizing photosynthesis they draw on the power of the sun to survive and produce the raw materials they need to exist. Due to this requirement to their existence, these organisms must live along the strongly lit surface layer of the water. This layer is known as the euphotic zone. This is true for any body of water and not just the ocea.

The phytoplanktic organisms are nature's most abundant source of photosynthetic activity on the planet. They are responsible for at least half of said activity and due to this they creation a large portion of Earth's oxygen supply. They are in fact responsible for half of the entire supply of oxygen in the atmosphere at any given time when it is derived from photosynthetic sources.

The total amount of energy created through introducing carbon compounds into the water is the main basis for a large portion of ocean based food webs. This holds true in many freshwater food chains and webs as well. Since the beginning of the 20th century the population of known phytoplanktic lifeforms has decreased steadily at a rate of roughly 1% per year. This continual decline has been linked to several theories, though the most prevalent is the warming of the oceans. It is estimated that there are 40% fewer phytoplanktic organisms in the world than there were in 1950. It should be noted that these food webs and chains are dynamic in nature and even some of the largest creatures in the world subsist almost entirely on these types of organisms. The baleen well eats krill, a type of diminutive shrimp. The krill eats the phytoplanktic organisms it comes across.

The tiny oxygen producting phytoplanktic organisms are also heavily dependent on absorbing minerals. These minerals are mostly derived from macronutrients such as phosphate, silicic acid, and nitrate. The availability of these minerals governs the balance between the concepts of the biological pump and the upwelling of the deeper waters which have high nutrient content.

The growth and proliferation of phytoplanktic organisms is directly linked to both sunlight levels and mineral content in the water. In areas where these organisms should grow the fastest they are limited by the lack of the micronutrient iron. This factor led to several studies and attempts at iron fertilization of select portions of the southern oceans. This iron was generally added as a salt such as iron sulphate. However, the inefficient nature of the process and the controversy caused by manipulating the ecosystem have slowed these experiments drastically since they began.

Currently there are believed to be around 5,000 species of marine phytoplanktic organisms in the world. Most of these organisms are photoautotrophs. However, there are examples of mixotrophic species. There are even non-pigmented heterotrophic species. The first type will be a species which mix trophic lines while the latter type, heterotrophs, will generally be viewed as a form of zooplankton. Noctiluca, a form of dinoflagellate genera, are a good example of the latter type. These organisms obtain organic carbon via the ingestation of detrital material and other organisms.

Phytoplankton is a term which encompasses all of the photoautotrophic microorganisms which exist within a marine ecosystem's food webb. These organisms serve as the basic beginning of most aquatic food webbs. Without them there would be a massive impact on the survival rate of most creatures on the planet. Unlike terrestrial organisms, all autotrophs in the oceans and waterways of the world do not come solely in the form of plants. There are also select forms of zooplankton and bacterioplankton which can also count as phytoplanktic lifeforms.

Numerically speaking the most important of the phytoplanktic groups are the cyanobacteria, the diatoms, and the dinoflagellates. There are many other algae groups present as well, however. The coccolithoporids are one of the groups which can be seen as important as well. These organisms create and release a large amount of dimethyl sulfide into the general atmosphere. Dimethyl sulfate (DMS) is transformed into sulfate. These transformed sulfate molecules will then bond together to help add as the nuclei for cloud condensation. This causes the increase in the cloud coverage capacity.

2. Aquaculture

Phytoplanktic organisms are one of the key food sources the in farming methods of mariculture and aquaculture. Mariculture is a form of aquatic farming which utilized phytoplanktic organisms in a naturally ocurring manner. The organisms will be allow to circulate into the enclosure as the normal seawater flows into the area. Aquaculture is a more dynamic method of farming which requires the phytoplanktic organisms to be collected and then introduced into the enclosure. The most prolific of doing this is through cultured organisms. However, some farms do actively collect organisms from other bodies of water.

The phytoplanktic organisms are utilized as a basic food stock for the generation of rotifers. The rotifers are then used to feed other lifeforms. Some of the most commonly farmed organisms using these methods are molluscs. This includes pearl oysters and the giant clam.

The farming and culturing of phytoplankton is a form of aquaculture in and of itself. There are a series of restrictive requirements necessary to maximize the growth potential of these organisms.

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