The importance of Plankton

Phytoplankton and Zooplankton are the first link in the aquatic food chain. If the plankton disappears, the chain is broken and the ecosystems will suffer. Learn more about this issue and what can be done in Mozambique.

Plankton is an important source of food for larger animals. Phytoplankton is the first link in the food chain. These are known as primary producers because they produce the first forms of food. Zooplankton and other small animals that graze on the phytoplankton are known as primary consumers. These, in turn, become food for larger organisms such as bivalves, crustaceans and fish. The fish and other animals then become food for animals near the top of the food chain, such as harbor seals and man.

Phytoplankton is sometimes called the grasses of the sea. Like land plants, they produce lots of oxygen through photosynthesis. During photosynthesis the species use the sun’s energy to combine carbon dioxide and water into simple foods. This process removes carbon dioxide from seawater and allows the water to absorb a lot of carbon dioxide produced in the atmosphere.

Estuarine fish and shellfish depend upon phytoplankton for survival. Zooplankton is the intermediate link that transfers energy captured by phytoplankton to these animals. Since the phytoplankton is the primary link, it must be produced in great quantities to support the estuarine food web. If the plankton disappears, the chain is broken and the animals will suffer. On the other hand, some phytoplankton produces chemicals, which are harmful to humans and marine life. These species are not abundant but in some cases are cause for concern in coastal regions.

In Mozambique, most research already carried out on plantonic communities has been focusing on intertidal and estuarine communities. Future studies on deep-sea planktonic communities will be important, specially in the northern region, where oil and gas explorations will take place soon.

Biodinâmica, based in Pemba, and its partners Faculty of Natural Sciences of the University Lúrio (also based in Pemba) and Creocean (an international company specialized in Marine Ecological Works related to Oil & Gas) provide sampling and analysis of phyto and zooplaknton communities. Contact us to learn more about our services to the Oil & Gas services and the Marine Environment.

Carlos Litulo
Biodiversity specialist