Life cycle : Holoplankton
size : Vary.
Trophic levels : Zooplankton
Copepods (meaning "oar-feet") are a group of small crustaceans found in the sea and nearly every freshwater habitat. Some species are planktonic (drifting in sea waters), some are benthic (living on the ocean floor), and some continental species may live in limno-terrestrial habitats and other wet terrestrial places, such as swamps, under leaf fall in wet forests, bogs, springs, ephemeral ponds and puddles, damp moss, or water-filled recesses (phytotelmata) of plants such as bromeliads and pitcher plants. Many live underground in marine and freshwater caves, sinkholes, or stream beds. Copepods are sometimes used as bioindicators.
Planktonic copepods are important to global ecology and the carbon cycle. They are usually the dominant members of the zooplankton, and are major food organisms for small fish, whales, seabirds and other crustaceans such as krill in the ocean and in fresh water. Some scientists say they form the largest animal biomass on earth. They compete for this title with Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba). Because of their smaller size and relatively faster growth rates, however, and because they are more evenly distributed throughout more of the world's oceans, copepods almost certainly contribute far more to the secondary productivity of the world's oceans, and to the global ocean carbon sink than krill, and perhaps more than all other groups of organisms together. The surface layers of the oceans are currently believed to be the world's largest carbon sink, absorbing about 2 billion tons of carbon a year, the equivalent to perhaps a third of human carbon emissions, thus reducing their impact. Many planktonic copepods feed near the surface at night, then sink (by changing oils into more dense fats) into deeper water during the day to avoid visual predators. Their moulted exoskeletons, faecal pellets and respiration at depth all bring carbon to the deep sea.
About half of the estimated 13,000 described species of copepods are parasitic and have strongly modified bodies. They attach themselves to fish, sharks, marine mammals, and many kinds of invertebrates such as molluscs, tunicates, or corals. They live as endo- or ectoparasites on fish or invertebrates in fresh water as well as in marine environments.