The Plankton/Bio-Optics group, led by Dr. Timothy J. Cowles, focuses on the interaction of biological and physical processes across a range of temporal and spatial scales. Our long-term research objective is to understand how autotrophic and heterotrophic, planktonic production processes are linked to, and/or controlled by, physical processes that operate from the microscale (centimeters, minutes) to the mesoscale (kilometers, days).
This research is an outgrowth of the extensive laboratory investigations of zooplankton feeding, conducted by numerous investigators, that revealed complex behavioral responses to centimeter-scale distribution patterns of food items. The range of behavioral responses by zooplankton indicates that these organisms have sensory adaptations to detect and respond to environmental and food supply fluctuations over spatial scales of centimeters or less. It is therefore essential to understand the structure of the environment on the time and space scales that define the reproductive success, growth and mortality of planktonic organisms. We contend that a better understanding of environmental structure, variability, and controlling processes will lead to more accurate estimates of primary and secondary production in the ocean. We approach this objective through research projects that examine biological and physical distributions and processes across a wide range of spatial and temporal scales.