A morphological classification capturing functional variation in phytoplankton

C. Kruk, V.M. Huszar, E.T.H.M. Peeters, S. Bonilla, L. Costa, M.F.L.L.W. Lürling, C.S. Reynolds, M. Scheffer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

349 Citations (Scopus)


1. A logical way of distinguishing functional groups of phytoplankton is to cluster species according to their functional traits, such as growth rate and nutrient assimilation constants. However, data for such an approach are lacking for the vast majority of the species. 2. In this study, we show that a classification based on simple morphological traits may capture much of the variability in functional properties among the phytoplankton. We used information on more than 700 freshwater species, from more than 200 lakes situated in climate zones ranging from subpolar to tropical. 3. Morphological characteristics correlated well with functional properties, such as growth rate and sinking rate, and also with the population size and biomass attained in the field. This suggests that morphology is a good predictor of the functional characteristics of species. 4. Cluster analysis was used to define seven species groups based on morphology. Although some of the clusters are taxonomically homogeneous, others include species of several separate divisions. Functional traits (not used for the classification) differed significantly among the clusters, suggesting that the clusters may indeed represent meaningful functional groups. 5. Advantages of our morphological approach to classification include its objectivity, its independence from taxonomic affiliations, and the relative ease of its application to the majority of species for which physiological traits are unknown and are not readily determined
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)614-627
JournalFreshwater Biology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2010


  • fresh-water phytoplankton
  • community ecology
  • summer phytoplankton
  • body-size
  • long-term
  • lake
  • variability
  • shallow
  • trait
  • fish


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