Derived from the Greek words phyto (plant) and plankton (made to wander or drift), phytoplankton are microscopic organisms that live in watery environments, both salty and fresh.
Like land plants, phytoplankton contains chlorophyll to capture sunlight and they use photosynthesis to turn it into chemical energy. They consume carbon dioxide and release oxygen. All phytoplankton photosynthesize but some get additional energy by consuming other organisms.
Phytoplankton is the foundation of the aquatic food web, feeding everything from microscopic, animal-like zooplankton to whales. Small fish and invertebrates also graze on phytoplankton.
If you’re not feeding phytoplankton, you’re not providing your tank the most basic element of the ocean.