Tropical plankton

T.S.S. Rao


Plankton represents the largest mass of living substance present in the oceans on this planet. They are distributed unevenly and diffusely. Tropical plankton as opposed to plankton occurring in higher latitudes shows some interesting features. For example, in the tropicalareas the complicated ecosystems tend to develop and support a large number of species. In Cochin Backwaters alone we have at least a hundred species of Copepods, not to speak of other groups. In the size variation, tropical plankton tend to be smaller while their cousins in the higher latitudes are really large. While Sagitta enflata grows to a maximum size 2.3 cm in tropics it grows to twice this size in higher latitudes and S. gazellae grows to nearly 12-13 cm. In their ecology the tropical plankton show a great deal of difference from those of the higher latitudes. While the growth of the whole populations is compressed to a short period (spring) in the Arctic and the Antarctic areas, in tropics the growth and distribution of the population is spread over several months, in fact, in some cases the whole year. While Calanus finmarchicus has one generation in the Arctic, in the north sea it has only three/four generations in a year, most of the copepod species in tropical areas produce several generations in a year. While Sagitta elegans breeds 2 or 3 times in a year in the English channel, S. enflata breeds almost continuously in tropical waters. Further detailed studies are very essential to understand the ecological aspects of plankton in these tropical waters. A concerted effort to study the currents and upwelling systems of the west coast together with precise quantitative studies of the plankton and nutrient distribution should help us in understanding the extent of biological production in these waters


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