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Many marine toxins are proteins which
are destroyed by heat, much like what happens to an egg when it's
hard-boiled. A hot soak can dramatically reduce the pain, and amount
of damage, caused by a sting

New Mechanistic Insights: Somewhere between theory development and key species is the need
to draw insight from the interactions among species that do not fit conventional food web models.
For instance, conventional wisdom on phytoplankton size effects on nutrient competition applies most
directly at the extremes (picophytoplankton versus large diatoms). In the middle ground are
numerous mixotrophic forms which can acquire nutrients and trace elements by feeding on other
organisms or particles; they do not compete for limiting resources on the same basis. In addition, the
chemical defenses of some phytoplankton influence the growth rates of competitors and the grazing
and reproduction of consumers, potentially confounding the responses of communities to
environmental forcing with nonlinear effects.






Objective: Understand the role plankton has in the coral reef ecosystem.

Vocabulary: non-living things, living things, plankton, phytoplankton, zooplankton, producers, photosynthesis, consumers

Ocean waters contain many non-living and living things that are not visible to the human eye. Some of these non-living things are dissolved substances called salt and limestone. Tiny plants and animals that float in almost all bodies of water called plankton are some of the many living things existing in the ocean that are small and difficult to see. Despite their small size, plankton plays an extremely important role in supplying food not only to the coral reef system but the entire ocean ecosystem.

Although there are many different kinds and species of plankton, they can easily be grouped into two basic types: plants and animals. Plankton that are plants are called algae, or phytoplankton. Plankton that are animals are called zooplankton.

Phytoplankton are producers. This means that in the process called photosynthesis, they produce their own food using sunlight, water, carbon dioxide, and nutrients.


As animals, zooplankton are consumers and as a result must capture their food. Look at the drawings above and notice that zooplankton have various food capturing devices in the physical appearance whereas phytoplankton do not.

Using the process of photosynthesis, phytoplankton rely on the sunlight energy that passes through the surface of the water to live in the ocean. For this reason phytoplankton, or algae as its commonly called, lives within few meters of the surface of the water where there is plenty of sunlight. Shallow ocean waters that are abundant in algae are usually greenish in color.


There are many different species of phytoplankton algae that grow in the ocean and that are eaten by small fish and other marine organisms. Certain species of algae called zooxanthellae, that has a symbiotic relationship with corals as it lives inside the body of coral polyps providing them with food and skeleton building capacities. Similar to other species that float in the surrounding ocean water, zooxanthellae, uses sunlight and excess nutrients from the coral polyps to grow.

Zooplankton capture the phytoplankton floating beside them in the water by using various stinging and capturing techniques.  Zooplankton are one of the important foods of coral polyps.

Both phytoplankton and zooplankton are very important in both coral reef and ocean ecosystems because they form the bottom of the food chain. This means that because plankton are the food that small marine animals, fish, coral polyps and other marinelife eat, they also support larger fish and other animals higher in the food chain. The larger fish and other animals are often eaten by humans. In this way humans, who are at the top of the food chain are dependent on plankton, which are on the bottom.

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