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Difference between Phytoplankton and Zooplankton

Phytoplanktons and zooplanktons are two types of planktons that are found in water. Phytoplanktons are plants, while zooplanktons are animals; this is the main difference between them. Larval crustaceans and krills are examples of zooplankton; algae and diatoms are examples of phytoplankton.

Planktons are economically important organisms and are crucial in the aquatic food web. While phytoplanktons are a source of primary producers in the aquatic food chains, zooplanktons are consumers, it eats phytoplanktons. Phytoplanktons either produce food through chemosynthesis or photosynthesis. They are known to liberate large amounts of oxygen through photosynthesis and are deemed good indicators of ocean health.

What Is Phytoplankton?

Phytoplanktons are a source of primary producers in the aquatic food chains.

  • Commonly known as microalgae, they are autotrophic plankton.
  • They can either be chemosynthetic or photosynthetic.
  • Can be found harbouring both freshwater habitats as well as marine habitats.
  • Chemosynthetic phytoplanktons are found in deep sections of the water bodies wherein sunlight does not reach, and photosynthetic phytoplanktons grow in the upper layer of water bodies where sunlight reaches
  • Dinoflagellates and diatoms are two main types of phytoplankton.

What Is Zooplankton?

Zooplanktons are consumers that feed on phytoplankton.

  • Found in both marine and freshwater habitats.
  • Found floating in the middle layer of water bodies.
  • They are heterotrophs consuming phytoplanktons hence they are primary or secondary consumers in the aquatic food chains.

Difference between Phytoplankton and Zooplankton

Following are some of the important differences between Phytoplankton and Zooplankton.

Attributes Phytoplankton Zooplankton
What are they? Found in fresh and marine water, they are plant-like aquatic microbes. They are animal-like aquatic entities. Also, they are larval phases of other life forms.
Examples Blue-green algae, cyanobacteria, dinoflagellates, diatoms Crustaceans such as copepods, krill, protozoans
Habitat Upper sunlight layer of the water bodies (euphoric). Found in deeper ocean beds where sunlight does not reach.
Appearance When they grow in a group, cloudy patches are formed, otherwise brown in colour. Mostly translucent and can be found in varied shapes and colours.
Oxygen Lots of oxygen is released. Oxygen is consumed.
Mode of nutrition Through chemosynthesis or photosynthesis produces its own food. Consumes other zooplanktons and phytoplanktons.
Position in the aquatic food chain Primary producers Primary or secondary consumers

These were some differences between phytoplanktons and zooplanktons. Watch this space at BYJU’S for more on NEET.

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Frequently Asked Questions


What are some examples of zooplanktons?

Zooplanktons can be both microscopic and macroscopic organisms. Examples are jellyfish, larval crustaceans, krill, copepods, protozoans, etc.


What is meroplankton?

The term meroplankton includes both zooplankton and phytoplankton. Meroplanktons have both benthic and planktonic stages in their life cycle. Examples – larval stages of larger organisms like starfish, worms, sea urchins, fish, etc.


What is holoplankton?

Holoplanktons include both zooplankton and phytoplankton. These are organisms that live in the water column (pelagic zone) for their entire life cycle. Examples are some diatoms, copepods foraminifera, krills, etc.


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