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

Module Aims

In this course you will learn to recognise the diversity of marine zooplankton taxa; the factors that regulate their distribution and abundance; and the fundamental role they play in marine pelagic ecosystems. The specific objectives are to: 1. Establish the role of zooplankton in the pelagic marine community and introduce holo- and mero-plankton diversity and functional biology. 2. Review zooplankton reproduction and life cycle strategies. 3. Understand how biotic and abiotic factors regulate zooplankton distribution and abundance at various temporal and spatial scales; larval transport and meroplankton settlement. 4. Review the technologies available to sample the community in the field and to introduce procedures for laboratory analysis of abundance and biomass. 5. Establish the role that zooplankton play in marine pelagic food web ecology; introducing the impact of zooplankton grazing, zooplankton as predators and ‘alternative’ food resources. 6. Critically evaluate methods used to determine diet, feeding rates and trophic role. 7. Introduce the responses of zooplankton to tidal advection and behavioural / physiological methods to avoid displacement; diel vertical migration and its impact on the individual and community. 8. Assess how zooplankton is used as indicators of water mass movements and hydroclimatic change in the global ocean.

Learning Outcomes

Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Boatwork and laboratory skills in zooplankton sampling and identification.
  • Knowledge of zooplankton and contemporary topics in plankton research.
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Small group boatwork and laboratory practical skills
  • Critical analysis of a research paper and research methods
  • Construction of a dichotomous key
  • Preparation of written concise scientific reports
  • Library information retrieval
Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Appreciate the diversity of mero- and holo-plankton; be able to carry out a taxonomic description of several marine zooplankton groups.
  • Have a practical working knowledge of zooplankton sampling; be able to identify common species of zooplankton found in UK estuarine and coastal waters.
  • Understand how biotic (life history strategies, behaviour, trophic interactions) and abiotic (hydrodynamics, climate) factors regulate zooplankton distribution and abundance.
  • Appreciate the behavioural and physiological responses used by zooplankton to counter tidal advection/population dispersal and to undertake 24-hour diel vertical migration.
  • Understand the role that zooplankton play in marine pelagic food webs; appreciate the constraints to measuring zooplankton feeding in the laboratory and in the field using different methodological approaches.
  • Be aware how plankton dynamics and pelagic ecosystem function will differ in response to hydroclimatic variability, through the use of zooplankton indicator species and long-term datasets.
  • Use a range of library information services to aid production of well-structured written reports.


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, because they are key components of the trophodynamics of pelagic ecosystems, linking primary production to higher trophic levels - fish, mammals and seabirds. In addition to their functional role, marine zooplankton are considered to be good 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 physiological and hydroclimatic factors that regulate their distribution and abundance; and the fundamental role they play in marine pelagic ecosystems. Responses of individual zooplankters to their environment will be studied by examining factors regulating tidal advection, larval settlement and the implications of diel vertical migration. The useful of plankton indicators of climate change will be explored. Practical classes are designed to introduce the diversity of mero- and holo-planktonic forms and to train students in formal taxonomic identification of temperate water species. Methods for evaluating feeding rate and diet will be carried out during a critique of a research paper.

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 Blackboard: The Blackboard sites contain everything to support the course: course synopsis and timetable, lecture and practical notes, additional reading material and relevant websites, practical groupings and assignment marks. All announcements relating to this course will be made via email sent via the Blackboard sites.

Independent Study117
Practical classes and workshops9
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Valiela I (1995). Marine ecological processes. 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miller CB (2012). Biological oceanography. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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


Assessment Strategy

Theory Examination (75%): A 2½ hour written examination paper, choice of 3 questions from 6 to be answered (no compulsory question). Tests Learning Outcomes 1-6. Online Test 1 (12.5%): . Tests Learning Outcomes 1&2. Online Test 2 (12.5%): Tests Learning Outcomes 5&7. In addition to the formal assessment outlined above, there will be a Revision Quiz in Week 12, and during the course of the semester I will provide examples of Model Answers to questions that you may have in the theory exam.




MethodPercentage contribution
Online test  (1000 words) 12.5%
Online test  (1500 words) 12.5%
Theory examination  (2.5 hours) 75%
Share this module Share this on Facebook Share this on Twitter Share this on Weibo

We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you continue without changing your settings, we will assume that you are happy to receive cookies on the University of Southampton website.