Dr Richard Kirby studies marine life
The passion of marine scientist Dr Richard Kirby is to bring the secret world of plankton nearer to us all. His popular website and @PlanktonPundit Twitter account are famous for excellent footage of all those minuscule creatures that float and roam the biggest ecosystems on our planet – the oceans. He uses his ZEISS Axio Zoom.V16 zoom microscope with 1x and 2.3x Plan Neofluar objectives to capture images and movies with highest quality from these tiny little organisms in their wet element.
What is marine plankton?
The marine plankton are all those creatures in the sea that drift at the mercy of the ocean currents and while this definition includes the jellyfish, some of which are the largest marine invertebrates, most plankton are invisible to the naked eye and so can only be seen by microscopy.
It is the tiny, light-gathering phytoplankton living at the sea surface that is the source of nearly all life in the sea. These microalgae are so numerous in the oceans that they account for approximately 50% of all photosynthesis on Earth and about 95% of marine primary production. The phytoplankton also color the sea, which is probably how most people have noticed their presence without realizing, and, as oxygen is a by-product of phytoplankton photosynthesis, they support every other breath we take.
Diatoms, like these sampled from the spring bloom in the sea off Plymouth, UK dominate the oceans’ microalgae to comprise approximately 43% of the global, oceanic primary production:
The plankton food web
The phytoplankton are grazed by the herbivorous zooplankton, in turn preyed upon by carnivorous zooplankton that together form the intricate plankton food web. Together, the plankton are the food for fish, which in turn are eaten by other sea creatures such as seabirds, sharks, and seals, in their turn eaten by larger predators like killer-whales. The plankton are also the food source of some of the largest mammals on Earth, the baleen whales. In this way the plankton food web determines the amount of life in the sea from the abundance of fish to the number of polar bears on the ice or seabirds in the sky.
Despite their inherent beauty and often alien-looking shapes, the plankton remains unseen by most of us, and rarely featured on wildlife programs. That’s why ZEISS supports Dr Richard Kirby’s work to make this hidden world visible and to explain its importance for our very existence.
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