Phytoplankton are small, traveling, oceanic organisms that are a key source of oxygen production in the Earth's atmosphere. This week, a report in the journal Science describes where these migrating microorganisms are likely to reside across the globe. The scientists found that more species of phytoplankton tend to be found in tropical regions, but more individual organisms are found at the northern latitudes.
Although phytoplankton are known for their oxygen-producing skills, they also make a tasty meal for other sea creatures up the food chain. In this video, a corallimorph polyp (an organism similar to a sea anemone) gobbles up a microscopic copepod plankton floating by.
'Corynactis viridis' from MORPHOLOGIC on Vimeo.
This aquascape is the work of Morphologic Studios, a scientific art collective based in Miami that specializes in documenting the marine life of South Florida. They write on their blog that for this sequence, they used a tiny LED light "to highlight the fluorescent orange ring around the outer diameter of the polyp," and that "the total elapsed time of the video was roughly 12 minutes and sped up 1200%."
Polyps typically colonize large areas of a rocky surface on the sea floor, writes Morphologic Studios, and "their colors are often vibrant with fluorescent accents." Like the plankton species they consume, polyps are themselves important to the oceanic food chain, and provide sanctuary and sustenance to even larger species. Watch this clinging crab preening both its own exterior and the tentacles of the Ricordea florida polyps underneath it.
'Preener' from MORPHOLOGIC on Vimeo.
Like the first video, this one is also sped up (9 times). At normal speeds the polyps appear stationary, but here you can see them squeeze and sway underneath the crab.
Every week, Morphologic Studios posts a video on its blog and makes unique art installations that take aquariums into a new frontier.
Nate is an intern with NPR's science desk.