Thursday, March 13, 2008

If I were plankton: Ode to productivity

Plankton is a primary producer in marine (and lacustrine) environments. Plankton uses energy from the sun to metabolize O2 from CO2, not only serving the important yet often overlooked position as the bottom of the food chain dog-pile, but also sustaining an oxygen-rich atmosphere. High productivity in the oceans results from blooms of these primary producers that then stimulates a chain reaction of increased energy flow that cascades up the food chain. Bless the little buggers for all their hard work.

After plankton do their job making the atmosphere awesome, they die. Well, they spawn and then they die. When they die, their carcasses are eaten, dissolved, or sink to the bottom of the ocean (or lake) and get buried. The first option means that their death went to the nourishment of another organism that was hopefully either tasty or eaten by something tasty or eaten by something that was eaten by something tasty. The second option allows for the minerals that made up the planktonic organism to be transferred back into the nutrient cycle. Carbon from dead plankton, for example, can be dissolved back into the seawater as the organism sinks to the seafloor and decays. That carbon then reenters the carbon cycle to potentially be used by other organisms. Again, one can only hope that this feeds something tasty. Other organisms buried in the seafloor sediments can also utilize minerals and nutrients from planktonic remains that reach the ocean bottom.

If I were plankton, I would have been spawned, failed to ever photosynthesize, immediately die (without actually producing anything), sink to the seafloor without being eaten or dissolved, be deposited under anoxic conditions, immediately be buried by other sediment, and never even reenter the carbon cycle. Somehow this seems more pathetic than the plankton short bus…

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