ORONO — The National Science Foundation is awarding a group of New England institutions $1.1 million to collaborate on a project about the abundance of a critical plankton species in Northeast oceans.

The University of Maine, University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, University of New Hampshire, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, and Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay are working on the three-year project.

UMaine officials say the study will seek to better understand the physical and biological processes that control the abundance of a plankton species that is a key piece of the Northeast’s oceanic food web. The species is about the size of a grain of rice and it is the primary food item for everything from herring to the endangered North Atlantic right whale.

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