Saturday, 22 November 2008

Copepods run the world!

Between trawling for new fish species, photographing seabirds and whale watching, it’s easy to forget that some of the oceans most interesting creatures are only seen clearly through the lens of a microscope. In fact much of the oceans diversity can be found within the group of animals we refer to as zooplankton. Copepods, krill, amphipods, tiny fish larvae, baby decapods, polychaete worms and pelagic snails are only a few of the organisms that we have pulled from the water column by use of a bongo net, and of all these animals the copepod stands supreme. The copepod (see photos below) is a small crustacean with a tear drop shaped body, long antennae and an armoured exoskeleton and although there are a number of carnivorous species, most copepods are predominantly herbivorous. In terms of biomass, copepods are rivaled only by Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) and contribute an enormous amount of protein to oceanic food webs. Herbivorous copepods form one of the most important trophic links in the oceans, because they graze on minute algae and in turn are fed on by larger zooplankton and fish, making the energy found in phytoplankton (which is fueled by nutrient inputs and the sun) available to rest of the oceanic food web. Without copepods, we would have no whales, dolphins, seals or fish and so, in essence, copepods run the world.

Images: Left: Pontella sp. Middle: Euchaeta sp. Right: Sapphirina sp.

Text & photos by Jackie Hill

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