Phycology or algology is the study of the algae. The word phycology is derived from the Greek word phykos, which means “seaweed.” The term algology, described in Webster’s dictionary as the study of the algae, has fallen out of favor because it resembles the term algogenic which means “producing pain.” The algae are thallophytes (plants lacking roots, stems, and leaves) that have chlorphyll a as their primary photosynthetic pigment and lack a sterile covering of cells around the reproductive cells. This definition encompasses a number of plant forms that are not necessarily closely related, for example, the cyanobacteria which are closer in evolution to the bacteria than to the rest of the algae.


Algae can be aquatic or subaerial, when they are exposed to the atmosphere rather than being submerged in water. Aquatic algae are found almost anywhere from freshwater spring to salt lakes, with tolerance for a broad range of pH, temperature, turbidity, and O2 and CO2 concentration.
They can be planktonic, like most unicellular species, living suspended throughout the lighted regions of all water bodies including under ice in polar areas. They can be also benthic, attached to the bottom or living within sediments, limited to shallow areas because of the rapid attenuation of light with depth. Benthic algae can grow attached on stones (epilithic), on mud or sand (epipelic), on other algae or plants (epiphytic), or on animals (epizoic).
In the case of marine algae, various terms can be used to describe their growth habits, such as supralittoral, when they grow above the high-tide level, within the reach of waves and spray; intertidal, when they grow on shores exposed to tidal cycles: or sublittoral, when they grow in the benthic environment from the extreme low-water level to around 200 m deep, in the case of very clear water.

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