• IASbaba
  • January 20, 2023
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Environment & Ecology
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Context: Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have reported that a particular genus of plankton, namely Halteria, can ‘grow and divide given only viruses to eat’.

About Halteria:

  • Halteria — microscopic ciliates (a single-celled organism with minuscule hairs) that populate freshwater worldwide — can thrive wholly on a virus-only diet or ‘virovory’.
  • Plankton of the genus Halteria can each consume 10,000 to a million virus particles a day, increase their population using the metabolised energy, and provide more food for the zooplanktons that consume the Halteria.
  • Virovory is sufficient to support an organism’s physiological development and even population increase.
  • They’re made up of nucleic acids, a lot of nitrogen and phosphorous.

Significance of Halteria:

  • Halteria plankton are found in large numbers in freshwater bodies.
  • They are heterotrophs meaning they can’t produce their own food.
  • Instead, they are well-known bacterivores — they consume bacteria to power themselves.
  • Viruses “short-circuit” the process of nutrients moving up the food chain.
  • They infect and kill both bacteria and plankton, releasing organic matter that dissolves in the water.
  • By also consuming viruses for nutrition, Halteria plankton can recover the nutrients lost in the viral shunt and bring them back into the food chain.

About Planktons:

  • Plankton are usually microscopic, often less than one inch in length, but they also include larger species like some crustaceans and jellyfish.
  • Scientists classify plankton in several ways, including by size, type, and how long they spend drifting.
  • But the most basic categories divide plankton into two groups: phytoplankton (plants) and zooplankton (animals).
  • Phytoplankton are microscopic plants, but they play a huge role in the marine food web.
    • Like plants on land, phytoplankton perform photosynthesis to convert the sun’s rays into energy to support them, and they take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.
  • Zooplankton include microscopic animals (krill, sea snails, pelagic worms, etc.), the young of larger invertebrates and fish, and weak swimmers like jellyfish.
    • Most zooplankton eat phytoplankton, and most are, in turn, eaten by larger animals (or by each other).
    • Krill may be the most well-known type of zooplankton; they are a major component of the diet of humpback, right, and blue whales.
    • During the daylight hours, zooplankton generally drift in deeper waters to avoid predators.
  • But at night, these microscopic creatures venture up to the surface to feed on phytoplankton.

Source: The Hindu

Previous Year Questions

Q.1) Consider the following kinds of organisms:

  1. Copepods
  2. Cyanobacteria
  3. Diatoms
  4. Foraminifera

Which of the above are primary producers in the food chains of oceans? (2021)

  1. 1 and 2
  2. 2 and 3
  3. 3 and 4
  4. 1 and 4

Q.2) Which of the following are detritivores?

  1. Earthworms
  2. Jellyfish
  3. Seahorse
  4. Woodlice

Select the correct answer using the code given below

  1. 1, 2 and 4 only
  2. 2, 3, 4 and 4 only
  3. 1, 3 and 5 only
  4. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5


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