Zooplankton are drifting organism living in the oceans, particularly the pelagic and littoral zones, as well as in rivers, lakes and ponds. Majority of them are microscopic, unicellular or multicellular forms with size ranging from a few microns to a millimeter or more. Zooplankton are the heterotrophic group of plankton as they feed on phytoplankton. Zooplankton can be subdivided into two groups; holoplankton (spend entire lifecycle as plankton) and meroplankton (spend part of lifecycle as plankton). The meroplankton group consist of larval and young stages of animals that will adopt a different lifestyle once they mature (e.g.. larvae of fish, shrimp, crab).
They play an important role in the conservation of energy from primary producer (phytoplankton) to higher trophic levels. The zooplankton occurrence and distribution influence pelagic fishery potentials. Thus, they are the initial prey for most fish larvae as well as for many plankton-eating adult fishes. In aquaculture sector, zooplankton are good food source for cultured fish especially fry, fingerlings and juveniles. Indeed, zooplankton are used as one of the bioindicators for accessing aquatic ecosystem health. The zooplankton are more varied as compared to phytoplankton, their variability in any aquatic ecosystem is influenced mainly by patchiness, diurnal vertical migration and seasons.
The Water Framework Directive (WFD) uses phytoplankton as one of the ecosystem component required to monitor the quality status of the marine and freshwater bodies. Zooplankton is one of the required biological components of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to ensure that impacts on the biodiversity are taken into account and adverse effects are avoided or minimized.
Analysis of zooplankton begin with sample collection using plankton net, preservation, identification of samples to lowest level possible, enumeration to data interpretation including statistical analysis of the population obtained. A long-term monitoring program could provide better and accurate information on the state of the biodiversity and assessing priorities for conservation of a target area.
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