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Plankton (singular plankter) are a diverse group of organisms that live in the water column and cannot swim against a current. These organisms include drifting animals, protists, archaea, algae, or bacteria that inhabit the pelagic zone of oceans, seas, or bodies of fresh water; that is, plankton are defined by their ecological niche rather than phylogenetic or taxonomic classification.

Trophic groups Edit

Plankton are primarily divided into broad functional (or trophic level) groups:

  • Phytoplankton (from Greek phyton, or plant), autotrophic, prokaryotic or eukaryotic algae that live near the water surface where there is sufficient light to support photosynthesis. Among the more important groups are the diatoms, cyanobacteria, dinoflagellates andcoccolithophores.
  • Zooplankton (from Greek zoon, or animal), small protozoans or metazoans (e.g. crustaceans and other animals) that feed on other plankton and telonemia. Some of the eggs and larvae of larger animals, such as fish, crustaceans, and annelids, are included here.
  • Bacterioplankton, bacteria and archaea, which play an important role in remineralising organic material down the water column (note that the prokaryotic phytoplankton are also bacterioplankton).

This scheme divides the plankton community into broad producerconsumer and recycler groups. However, determining the trophic level of some plankton is not straightforward. For example, although most dinoflagellates are either photosynthetic producers orheterotrophic consumers, many species are mixotrophic depending upon circumstances.

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