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Israeli, U.S., German researchers unveil remarkable behavior of ocean plankton

An international team of scientists from Israel, the United States and Germany, led by Prof. Amatzia Genin of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat, has provided, for the first time, evidence of the remarkable dynamics responsible for the formation of large aggregations of microscopic animals in the ocean.

From the surface, the ocean appears to be vast and uniform. But beneath the surface, countless number of tiny, nearly transparent animals, called zooplankton, are swept into clusters and patches by ocean currents. The very survival of many zooplankton predators--from invertebrates to whales--and the success of fishermen catches can depend on their success at finding those patches.

The new findings indicate that zooplankton are passively drifting with the current, as their name implies ("planktos" = "drifting" in Greek), but only in the horizontal direction, not in the vertical. Indeed, in the vertical, these creatures show a great ability to go "against the flow."

Although scientists and fishermen have known for a long time that zooplankton spend their life suspended in a constantly flowing environment, an understanding of their responses to ocean currents has remained elusive, mainly due to technological limitations in tracking the motion of the minuscule animals.

Now, the recent development of a three-dimensional, acoustic imaging system by Jules Jaffe of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, has opened the door for a team of researchers to track several hundred thousand individual zooplankton at two coastal sites in the Red Sea. In addition to Prof. Genin, the team included his graduate student Ruth Reef; Dr. Jules Jaffe and Prof. Peter Franks from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography; and Dr. Claudio Richter from the Center for Tropical Marine Ecology in Bremen, Germany.

Their findings, reported in the May 6
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Contact: Jerry Barach
jerryb@savion.huji.ac.il
972-2-5882904
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
5-May-2005


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