What are plankton and why are they important?


Plankton are free-floating organisms are the fundamental biological building blocks of ocean ecosystems. They provide many important ecosystem services, including producing oxygen, removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and contributing to global biodiversity. Many economically important animals (e.g. shellfish, crabs, and fishes) are part of the plankton in their early life stages. Despite their importance, we don’t know as much about plankton as we should, including their diversity, trophic interactions, triggers for plankton blooms, factors causing biological hotspots, and responses to climate change. 

Much of what the Plankton Ecology Lab studies relates to understanding the relationship between larval fishes and their planktonic prey and predators. The amount and composition of plankton is also important for adult fishes that consume plankton directly (e.g., anchovies, herring, sardines), which in turn, are eaten by larger fishes like salmon and tuna as well as other predators such as seabirds and marine mammals. Ultimately, we are interested in what drives variation in year-to-year population abundance of key fish species.

The OSTRICH project aims to quanity the patterns and consquences of fine-scale (centimeter) to sub-mesoscale (kilometer) spatial distribution of larval fishes, their prey, and predators across a western boundary front through the Straits of Florida. Spatial patchiness of plankton has long been known to be ecologically important, and this is particularly true for larval fishes. Patchy prey and predator environments should lead to variation in predator-prey interactions, which underlie variation in larval fish growth and survival. For the OSTRICH project, we use a new sampling technology called the "Deep Focus Plankton Imager 2 (DPI-2)" to simultaneously measure the in situ, fine-scale distribution of larval fishes in relation to their prey and their planktonic predators.

Plankton definitions











Funding Sources

NSF logo National Science Foundation Biological Oceanography & REU Programs