Plankton are the diverse collection of organisms found in water (or air) that are unable to propel themselves against a current (or wind).[1][2] The individual organisms constituting plankton are called plankters.[3] In the ocean, they provide a crucial source of food to many small and large aquatic organisms, such as bivalves, fish and whales.

Part of the contents of one dip of a hand net. The image contains diverse planktonic organisms, ranging from photosynthetic cyanobacteria and diatoms to many different types of zooplankton, including both holoplankton (permanent residents of the plankton) and meroplankton (temporary residents of the plankton, e.g., fish eggs, crab larvae, worm larvae)

Marine plankton include bacteria, archaea, algae, protozoa and drifting or floating animals that inhabit the saltwater of oceans and the brackish waters of estuaries. Freshwater plankton are similar to marine plankton, but are found in the freshwaters of lakes and rivers. Plankton are usually thought of as inhabiting water, but there are also airbourne versions, the aeroplankton, that live part of their lives drifting in the atmosphere. These include plant spores, pollen and wind-scattered seeds, as well as microorganisms swept into the air from terrestrial dust storms and oceanic plankton swept into the air by sea spray.

Though many planktonic species are microscopic in size, plankton includes organisms over a wide range of sizes, including large organisms such as jellyfish.[4] Plankton are defined by their ecological niche and level of motility rather than by any phylogenetic or taxonomic classification. Technically the term does not include organisms on the surface of the water, which are called neuston—or those that swim actively in the water, which are called nekton.

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