Project #83963 - Exploration Activity 3 - What is the ecological significance of plankton?

Exploration Activity 3 - What is the ecological significance of plankton?

When you finish this activity you should be able to:

  • Describe differences between the ecological roles of phytoplankton and zooplankton.
  • Compare the unique structures and their functions in different groups of common planktonic organisms.
  • Justify why plankton are critical to the survival of higher trophic levels.


What you will turn in:

  • Document upload to this assignment - Word file or Google Doc. This file upload should have your answers to the questions you encounter throughout the activity. Click HERE to download a word template of the assignment - type your answers in: EA 3 Assignment TemplatePreview the documentView in a new window
  • Exploration Discussion 3 will be available after completion of this activity.



In Lesson's 4 & 5 you learned about the primary producers of the ocean and how the energy they capture from sunlight is transferred through higher trophic levels. In the marine environment almost all food webs are supported by the drifting microalgae or "phytoplankton" - these important organisms serve as the base of the food web. Their counterpart the weak swimming animals or "zooplankton" provide an important link between the microscopic phytoplankton and the larger animals that can not feed on them directly. 

While plants on land must counteract gravity to reach toward the sun, with strong trunks, branching stems and large leaves, the phytoplankton in the pelagic zone are exceptionally small, microscopic, and single-celled and buoyantly supported by the density of the surrounding water. This presents a dilemma for the large animals that must rely on them for food. This is why the miniature, almost invisible planktonic animals, the zooplankton, are also very important - they can eat these tiny plant-like cells!

We can not see most phytoplankton or zooplankton without a microscope. Most of zooplankton are less than about a millimeter long, less than 1/16th of an inch, and most are quite transparent. The phytoplankton are even smaller at less than 1/1000th of an inch. They are called “net zooplankton” because we can only investigate them by catching them specialized 'plankton nets' designed to catch microscopic life. Individually these animals are difficult to see in seawater because our eyes cannot easily resolve individual spots smaller than about one millimeter. Small size is an important survival strategy in the open sea because many pelagic predators are visual predators with eyes much like our own. If we can not see these tiny animals, then predatory fish probably can not see them either! 

In this activity you are going to visually explore the world of the plankton. Let's get started!


Exploring the plankton

Your journey into the world of marine plankton will take place through a custom TED-Ed Lesson Dr. Roz created for you.   

  • Note that you will be prompted to create a free account with or enter your login information if you already have an account.

This activity is designed around a 6-minute video clip "The Secret Life of Plankton" and will later direct you to another outside video clip on the gelatinous creatures of the plankton. There are four stages of the activity: "Watch, Think, Dig Deeper & ...And Finally":

    • Watch - you will watch the video "Secret Life of Plankton"
    • Think - answer the 8 questions presented to you and be sure to save your answers after you finish writing them (TED-Ed will record them for you)
    • Dig Deeper - read the content and watch the second 6-minute video on zooplankton 
    • ...And Finally - read the page and answer the question I have asked you

If you are ready to start click here to enter TED-Ed: (Links to

Subject Science
Due By (Pacific Time) 09/30/2015 10:00 pm
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