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Study of Plankton

© Alexsander S. Bogolyubov, Aleksey A. Kotov, Russia, 1999

© Michael J. Brody, USA, 2003

Study of planktonThis manual contains procedures for studying meso- and microzooplankton in freshwater bodies, including techniques of sampling, sample conservation, qualitative and quantitative analyses. Emphasis is on long term studies using identical field study techniques. Variations and options for additional studies are described.

This field study has instructional video featuring real students conducting the ecological field techniques in nature. Each video illustrates the primary instructional outcomes and the major steps in accomplishing the task including reporting the results.


The zooplankton community is one of the main components of water-body biocenosis.

The term “plankton” comes from the Greek word meaning “hover.” Thus, zooplankton is a group of rather small animals drifting in the water column. Plankton is abundant in lakes, ponds and reservoirs. Its biomass and populations are significantly lower in rivers.

The zooplankton community, as any other community in an ecosystem, is characterized by a constancy of species diversity, dynamic stability and a certain structure peculiar to the plankton community.

Change in water conditions causes changes in the proportions of plankton and other water animals. Sometimes it is possible to make a conclusion on the possible cause of changes, based on their analysis: excessive increase of fish populations, changes in the chemical composition of water (for instance, acidification), and so on. That is why long-term and repeated (in the course of a year) observations of plankton are of particular interest in ecological studies.

Most procedures for assessing any parameters of a body of water based on a single series of sampling do not stand up to critique. For example, if you go to the Sahara desert in spring and carry out a one-time survey, then you can make a conclusion that environmental conditions in the region are favorable for fruit growing: it is very warm there in spring and there is enough moisture. However, a dry season will come in a month and the desert will become barren.

Thus, studies of plankton that have been conducted within a week are of no interest to scientists: they provide information only on the given week of the year, but they do not give an idea of the structure and functioning of the community as a whole.

Long-term studies should be carried out in the course of a long period of time and according to the same technique, otherwise, results of studies obtained in different years cannot be compared and variability trends cannot be revealed.

Techniques for plankton collection

It is ideal to collect and count the individual plankton animals. This is rather difficult due to the large differences in their sizes: from 20 microns to several millimeters. This manual describes methods for census of mesoplankton (1mm and larger), which include Daphnia, Polyphemus and others, and microplankton (50 – 1000 microns) – larvae of Copepods (nautilus and copepodites), water fleas Bosmina, Diaphanosoma, and rotifers. The sampling method depends on the type of water body, its depth and size.

Sampling with the help of a plankton net

Construction of a plankton net. A plankton net is a net made of a special cloth called “plankton gauze,” which lets water pass, but collects plankton. The net also has a container to collect animals that are accumulated in the course of sampling (filtering) (Picture 1a).

The plankton net can be homemade. You will need a mill sieve (with cells of 0.15 – 0.1 mm), several pieces of wire, tight cloth and a plankton glass (Picture 1b).

You can use parachute kapron instead of “plankton gauze,” but do not use cotton medical gauze as it is too soft and it has cells that are too big.

The cloth is cut out in the form of a cone and sewn to a metal hoop at its upper part and to a plankton glass at its lower part. In both cases, the “gauze” should not be sewed directly to the hoop or glass, but to a band of cloth (flax, coarse calico or cotton), otherwise it will be too easily torn where it joins together.

Two standard size plankton nets are used in hydrobiological monitoring – with a diameter of the inlet – 25 or 40cm and length of the cone – 55 or 100cm correspondingly.

A commercial plankton glass can be replaced...


This was only the first page from the manual and its full version you can see in the

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set:

It is possible to purchase the complete set of 40 seasonal Ecological Field Study Materials (video in mpg + manuals in pdf formats) in an attractive 4 compact disk set. These compact disks are compatible with Mac and PC computers. The teacher background information and manuals can be printed out for easy reference. The videos are suitable for individual student or whole class instruction. To purchase the complete 4CD set write a request to the authors (in a free form).

Ecological Field Studies 4CD Set

Some of these manuals you can also purchase in the form of applications for Android devices on Google Play.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk:

We also have a free and interesting demonstration disk that explains our ecological field studies approach. The demo disk has short excerpts from all the seasonal field study videos as well as sample text from all the teacher manuals. The disk has an entertaining automatic walk through which describes the field study approach and explains how field studies meet education standards.

You can also download the Demo Disc from This is a virtual hybrid (for PC and Mac computers) CD-ROM image (one 563 Mb file "CD_Demo.iso"). You can write this image to the CD and use it in your computer in ordinary way. You also can use emulator software of virtual CD-ROM drive to play the disk directly from your hard disk.

Ecological Field Studies Demo Disk


Other Ecological Field Studies Instructive Manuals:

Autumn Season

  1. Orienteering in the Forest
  2. Procedure of the Geological Exposure Description
  3. Plotting a Profile of a River Valley Slope
  4. Simple Procedure of Soil Description
  5. Assessment of the Vital State of a Forest Based on Pine-tree Analysis
  6. Study of Species Composition and Number of Fungi
  7. Study of Species Composition and Census of Birds Using the Line Transect-counting Method
  8. Integrated Study Based on Landscape Profile
  9. Complex Environmental Assessment of Human Impact on an Area
  10. Assessment of Air Pollution by Lichen Indication Method

Winter Season

  1. Making a Campfire
  2. Simple “Eye” Survey of the Field Study Site
  3. Study of Growth Dynamics of Trees Based on Annual Rings
  4. Mapping Forest Vegetation
  5. Green Plants Under Snow
  6. Methods of Observation of a Chickadee Flock's Territorial Behavior
  7. Procedure of Winter Mammals Route Census by Footprints
  8. Study of Mammal Ecology According to Their Tracks
  9. Physical and Chemical Properties of Natural Waters
  10. Study of Snow Cover Profile

Spring Season

  1. Let's Help Birds!
  2. Study of the Ecology of Early Flowering Plants
  3. Phenology of Plant Florescence
  4. Assessment of the Vital State of Coniferous Underbrush
  5. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part I: Forest Litter, Wood)
  6. Studies of Species Composition and Abundance of Amphibians
  7. Studying Minerals and Rocks in Your Area
  8. Studies of the Day Activity of Singing Birds
  9. Studies of Bird Populations Size by Different Methods
  10. Study of Fauna of Spring Temporary Water Bodies

Summer Season

  1. Making a Herbarium
  2. The Study of Plants in Your Local Environment
  3. Study of the Vertical Structure of a Forest
  4. Study of Forest Invertebrates (Part 2: Grass Layer, Tree Crowns and Air)
  5. Study of Birds’ Nesting Life
  6. Complex Comparative Description of Small Rivers and Streams
  7. The Study of Water Invertebrates in a Local River and Assessment of Its Environmental State
  8. Study of Plankton
  9. Assessment of Ecological Features of Meadows on the Base of Vegetation Cover
  10. Assessment of Environmental State of the Forest Based on Leaves’ Asymmetry

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