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The earth’s oceans are filled with different marine organisms and aquatic animals that play an important role in our planet’s ecosystem. With every animal that lives under the ocean, as with land-based animals, each is totally dependent on other creatures for its existence. The food chain is a clear example of this relationship between the different levels of prey and predator. In order to understand the concept of this mutual relationship to survive, let us look at Phytoplanktons and its role in the food chain and ultimately, our ecosystem.
Phytoplankons are tiny autotrophic organisms that live in the ocean. Its name is derived from the Greek words “phyton” and “planktos”, which means plant wanderer or drifter. This is a description of phytoplankton’s characteristic of having no resistance to waves and current that can affect its movement. Though they cannot be seen without special equipment, once they are clustered together in large groups appear the water can appear to have a a green discoloration due to the cholorphyll present in their cells. On satellite images, phytoplanktons can be seen as large green colored formations of water in seas and in oceans.
These creatures source their energy from the sun through photosynthesis, and must eventually live in ocean levels where light is abundant. They are responsible for almost half of the earth’s photosynthetic activity as well as oxygen levels in the Earth’s atmosphere, which equates to half of the total number created by all plant life.
Furthermore, phytoplankton relies on minerals for its own sustenance. These minerals are macronutrients such as silicic acid, phosphate and nitrate and its availability depends on the equilibrium of the ocean’s biological pump and rise of deep cool water to the surface.
Also, phytoplankton covers all microorganisms that are photoautrophic in aquatic food chains, and thus secures its place in the basal level of the aquatic food chain supplying all the needed ecological function for aquatic life. Although, unlike other land-based terrestrial groups that are considered plants, phytoplankton is a unique group comprised of protistan eukaryotes, eubacterial and archaebacterial prokaryotes. There are estimated to be at least 5,000 aquatic phytoplanktons.
In addition, phytoplanktons are also an essential food source in the farming of freshwater and saltwater animals such as fish farms. And since aquafarming is done in contained and isolated waters, phytoplankton is used to feed the animals being farmed. In fact, phytoplanktons can now be artificially cultured for different purposes such as food for aqua organisms, supplements for captive invertebrates, and a source for bio-fuels.
Phytoplanktons are also known as the main source of food for krill, which is a member of the crustacean family that looks similar to a shrimp. Krill is one of than main food sources of baleen whales. This clearly shows the aquatic food chain in its basic form, and if one link is missing, all the following chains will be affected. The role of phytoplankton on our ecosystems contributes largely to the continued survival of all other organisms living in this planet.