Types of phytoplankton and Examples

In our world there are various types of microorganisms which we are not able to observe, however all of them play fundamental roles in the ecosystem and, therefore, influence the existence of living beings on earth.

In 1887, Victor Hensen, a German zoologist, doctor, algologist and planktologist, coined the term plankton to refer to all organisms present in aquatic environments. Phytoplankton is immersed within the plankton community. If you are interested in knowing what phytoplankton is and examples , then we invite you to read this interesting article from where you will learn about it and its importance in the environment.

What is phytoplankton

Phytoplankton is the group of autotrophic microorganisms present in the different bodies of water on the planet. These organisms, like plants, are autotrophs , that is, they have the ability to produce the energy necessary for their respective vital processes, from the light energy coming from the sun and the nutrients they find in their habitat. The phytoplankton community is distributed in the most superficial layers of the body of water , since to perform their photosynthetic role they must receive sunlight.

Currently, marine phytoplankton is studied as an indicator of water in aquatic ecosystems because it is highly perceptible to changes in its environment. In this way, if the body of water presents any physicochemical transformation, then the phytoplankton community would be affected in number, which would cause serious effects on other organisms immersed in the food chain, in which phytoplankton is the producer .

Within the phytoplankton group there are mainly diatoms, dinoflagellates, blue-green algae, brown algae and coccolithophorids, which we will explain better below.

Types of phytoplankton

Within phytoplankton we find different types:


Diatoms belong to the division Bacillariophyta . They are organisms that prefer salty and fresh waters and their size varies between 10 to 120 μm. Diatoms are distinguished by having cells that are covered in silica capable of withstanding degradation. The siliceous covering is called the frustule, which consists of two halves each called theca.


Dinoflagellates belong to the division Dinophyta . They are organisms with many types of nutrition and forms, due to their adaptive capacity to multiple environments . Its size varies between 50 to 500 μm, although Noctiluca scintillans can measure 2 mm in diameter. A notable characteristic of the behavior of dinoflagellates is that many of them belong to the group of bioluminescent phytoplankton, which is distinguished by generating light when converting chemical energy into luminous energy.

Cyanurites or blue-green algae

Blue-green algae belong to the division Cyanobacteria . They can be found in freshwater and terrestrial environments . Likewise, they are distributed in the open sea, saline areas and in the literal zone. Its size varies between 5 to 20 μm. Green algae are easy to recognize with the naked eye, since they form gelatinous masses on the waters where they live; these can be tree bark, rocks, soil, among others.

Brown algae

Brown algae belong to the division Phaeophyceae . Its ideal habitat is marine and cold water environments . Its size is very varied, and can reach 100 m in height. It is characterized by being the most evolved group of algae, because it has organs similar to the roots, stems and leaves of higher plants.


Coccolithophorids belong to the division Haptophyta . This type of phytoplankton lives only in marine water bodies . Its size can vary between 2 to 100 μm depending on the species. Its main feature is the coccoliths, which are calcium carbonate plates that cover it.

Examples of phytoplankton

  • Diatoms
  • Biddulphia pulchella
  • Skeltomema potamos
  • Cocconeis krammerii
  • Melosira sp.
  • Cyclotella meneghiniana
  • Triceratium doubt
  • Surirela sublinearis
  • Dinoflagellates
  • Oxyrrhis marina (Oxyrrhea)
  • Dinophysis acuminate
  • Ceratium macroceros
  • Ceratium furcoides
  • A sparkling nightingale
  • Glenodinium sp.
  • Peridinium sp
  • Cyanurites or blue-green algae
  • Arthrospira platensis
  • Maximum arthrospira
  • Arthrospira sp.
  • We are spherical
  • Punctiform nostocus
  • Nostoc commune
  • Spirulina sp.
  • Brown algae
  • Saccorhiza polyschides
  • A black lesson
  • Padina pavonica
  • Leathesia difformis
  • Durvillaea antartica
  • Padina durvillei
  • Gymnospora slope
  • Cocolitophoridos
  • Emiliania huxleyi
  • Ophiaster spp.
  • Oceanic Gephyrocapsa
  • Calcidiscus leptoporus
  • Helicosphaera carteri
  • Gephyrocapsa huxleyi
  • Gephyrocapsa caribbeanica

Importance of phytoplankton

Marine phytoplankton plays an important role for all aerobic living beings on the planet. These microorganisms produce more than 50% of oxygen through photosynthesis . On the other hand, phytoplankton, which is a producer, is essential in the trophic chains of aquatic ecosystems , since they are the basis of energy exchange between organisms.

Likewise, some of them play a fundamental role in the carbon cycle , since they have the ability to convert inorganic carbon, present in water, into organic carbon, thanks to the process of photosynthesis. Therefore, its presence in different bodies of water helps balance the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Some species that are capable of inhabiting soils, such as blue-green algae, have the ability to fix the nitrogen present in the atmosphere, which favors agriculture, since the soils become more fertile and protects it against a possible erosion.

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