Skip to main navigationSkip to main content
The University of Southampton

SOES6009 Zooplankton Ecology and Processes

Module Overview

The module will assess the role of zooplankton in the global marine ecosystem.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Laboratory skills in zooplankton identification using dichotomous taxonomic keys
  • Methods for analysing zooplankton seasonal and annual time-series
  • How to access databases of relevance to international zooplankton research
  • Knowledge of contemporary topics in plankton research
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Safe laboratory working practices
  • Data analysis and interpretation
  • Library information retrieval
  • Working in small groups
Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Recognise the diversity of mero- and holo-plankton; be able to identify common species of zooplankton using taxonomic features
  • Have a good working knowledge of zooplankton sampling methods and open access databases and how to choose the most appropriate methods to answer specific research questions.
  • Become proficient in analysing and interpreting plankton datasets.
  • Understand how biotic (life history strategies, behaviour, trophic interactions) and abiotic (hydrodynamics, climate) factors regulate zooplankton distribution and abundance.
  • Know how feeding ecology (diet, rates, impact) is determined in zooplankton; understand the role that zooplankton play in marine pelagic food webs and biogeochemical cycling in a variety of marine ecosystems characterised by differing levels of productivity.
  • Be aware how plankton dynamics and pelagic ecosystem function will differ in response to hydroclimatic variability, through the use of zooplankton indicator species, long-term datasets and hypothesis-testing experiments.


Marine zooplankton communities consist of permanent and temporary members, including the larvae of many fish and benthic invertebrates, thus acting as vehicles for population exchange and diversification. Zooplankton play an important role in the functioning of marine ecosystems and in biogeochemical cycles, linking pelagic primary production to higher trophic levels, including commercially important fish, mammals and seabirds. In addition to their functional role, marine zooplankton are considered to be excellent indicators of climate change because a) most species are short lived, which leads to tight coupling between environmental change and plankton dynamics, and b) they are free floating, so respond easily to changes in temperature and oceanic current systems by expanding and contracting their ranges. In this course you will learn to recognise the diversity of marine zooplankton taxa; the factors that regulate their distribution and abundance, both now and in the future; and the fundamental role they play in marine ecosystem function. There are 5 broad themes: 1) Biodiversity and taxonomy; 2) Temporal and spatial distributions; 3) Sampling methods and monitoring programmes; 4) Trophic ecology and biogeochemical cycling; and 5) Climate change.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Formal lectures: lectures will provide underlying structure. Practical sessions: practical classes will support aspects of the lecture programme This Blackboard site contains everything to support the course: course synopsis and timetable, lecture and practical handouts, PANOPTO recordings; additional reading material and relevant websites, practical groupings and assignment marks. All announcements relating to this course will be made via email sent via this Blackboard site.

Independent Study117
Practical classes and workshops9
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Mauchline J (1998). The biology of calanoid copepods. 

Soetaert K & van Rijswijk P (1993). Spatial and temporal patterns of the zooplankton in the Westerschelde estuary. Mar Ecol Prog Ser. ,97 , pp. 49-57.

McEdward L (1995). Ecology of marine invertebrate larvae. 

Miller CB (2012). Biological oceanography. 

Prairie JC et al. (2012). Biophysical interactions in the plankton: A cross-scale review. Limnol Oceanogr: Fluids & Environments. ,2 , pp. 121-145.

Lenz PH et al. (1996). Zooplankton: sensory ecology and physiology. 

Beaugrand G. (2004). The North Sea regime shift: evidence, causes, mechanisms and consequences. Prog Oceanogr. ,60 , pp. 245–262.

Folt CL (1999). Biological drivers of zooplankton patchiness. Trends Ecol Evoln. ,14 , pp. 300-305.

Arai M (1997). A functional biology of Scyphozoa. 

Sommer U (1989). Plankton ecology: succession in plankton communities. 

Pitt KA & Lucas CH (2014). Jellyfish blooms. 

Everson I (2000). Krill. Biology, ecology and fisheries.. 

Harris RP et al. (2000). ICES zooplankton methodology manual. 

Valiela I (1995). Marine ecological processes. 

Turner JT (2004). The importance of small planktonic copepods and their roles in pelagic marine food webs. Zool Stud. ,43 , pp. 255-266.

Reid PC et al. (2003). The Continuous Plankton Recorder: concepts and history, from Plankton Indicator to undulating recorders. Prog Oceanogr. ,58 , pp. 117-173.

Young CM et al. (2002). Atlas of marine invertebrate larvae. 

Levin LA (2006). Recent progress in understanding larval dispersal: new directions and digressions. Integr Comp Biol. ,46 , pp. 282-297.

Suthers IA & Rissik D (2009). Plankton. A guide to their ecology and monitoring for water quality. 

Kaiser MJ et al. (2011). Marine ecology. Processes, systems, and impacts. 

Beaugrand G (2005). Monitoring pelagic ecosystems using plankton indicators. ICES J Mar Sci. ,62 , pp. 333-338.

Purcell JE et al. (2001). Jellyfish blooms: ecological and societal importance. 

Hays GC et al. (2005). Climate change and marine plankton. Trends Ecol Evoln. ,20 , pp. 337-344.

Ringelberg J (2010). Diel vertical migration of zooplankton in lakes and oceans: causal explanations and adaptive significances. 

Omori M & Ikeda T (1984). Methods in marine zooplankton ecology. 

Gentsch E et al. (2009). Dietary shifts in the copepod Temora longicornis during spring: evidence from stable isotope signatures, fatty acid biomarkers and feeding experiments. J Plankton Res. ,31 , pp. 45-60.

Davis CS (1987). Zooplankton life cycles. Georges Bank. , pp. 256-267.


Assessment Strategy

Mid-term Exam (25%): A 1 hour multiple-choice exam on 'Zooplankton biodiversity and taxonomy' to be held in December. Tests LO 1. Main Written Exam (75%): A 2.5 hour written examination paper. There will be 1 compulsory question that will test your understanding and interpretation of the plankton and environmental parameters dataset analysis carried out in Practical 1, and a choice of 2 out of 4 questions covering the themes of temporal & spatial distributions, sampling methods, trophic ecology & biogeochemistry, and climate change, to be answered in essay fomat. Test LOs 2-6. In addition to the formal summative assessments outlined above, there are a number of opportunities for revision, formative assessment and feedback with the aim of helping you improve your understanding of the subject: i) Lectures will be recorded using PANOPTO and published on the module Blackboard site; ii) In-lecture Q+As for you to test your understanding of these areas; iii) In the two group sessions (practical P & Lecture L8), opportunities for discussion with, and verbal feedback from peers, demonstrators and staff; iv) Exam and course feedback session in week 11; v) Revision and exam preparation session in week 12.


In-class Test


MethodPercentage contribution
Mid-term test  (1000 words) 25%
Theory examination  (2.5 hours) 75%


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:


There are no additional costs associated with this module.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

Share this module Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo
Privacy Settings