Functional trait compilation for marine phytoplankton




Functional trait database for marine phytoplankton species. Table includes most of the frequently encountered species in coastal waters globally (based on the list of species available for SCOR working group 137)


Latest version of the trait table contains 2548 valid taxonomic entities that have all or most of the trait values available.



Lot of help in the early stages came from Sirpa Lehtinen at Finnish Environmental Institute.

After we had compiled data for the first 700 species, Seija Hällfors checked the list - the author and one of the main contributors to the checklist of Baltic Sea phytoplankton.

Special thanks go to Anke Kremp for checking the dinoflagellate species. 

Kalle Olli has helped to expand the trait table to include more taxa and have a global coverage; and developed the routine to check the taxonomy with World Register of Marine Species.



Technical specifications


Table consists mostly of binary traits, expect for cell volume.


N2-fixing ability

>  buoayncy

ability to use silica 


>  heterotrophy, autotrophy or mixotrophy;

> ability to form chain or colonies;

> accessory pigments- phycobilins, chl b, chl c. 

> size: the log-(x+1)transformed cell volumes reported with individual observations, and the observed size variation. The sizes are calculated from individual observations, therefore weighted by the actually observed size distribution of each taxa.

How to use?


You are free to download the trait table (remember, it will never be finished, so check the date on the file always); and I would only kindly ask you to report back to me in case you spot any mistakes in there.




Latest update:  06 December, 2017




Follow the project also in ResearchGate.


1. Early version of the trait table (limited to the Baltic Sea taxa) was used in the study published in 2017 in Functional Ecology



Presentation slides from TrendsPO meeting in Bremerhaven, December 2017: "The potential and limitations of functional traits in combination with phytoplankton microscopic counts data".

Useful references


  1. Klais, R. et al. 2017. Community assembly and drivers of phytoplankton functional structure. Functional Ecology, 31, 760-767.

  2. Litchman, E., Klausmeier, C.A. 2008. Trait-based community ecology of phytoplankton. Annu. Rev. Ecol. Evol. Syst. 39: 615-639

  3. Litchman, E., Klausmeier, C.A., Schofield, O.M., Falkowski, P.G., 2007. The role of functional traits and trade-offs in structuring phytoplankton communities: scaling from cellular to ecosystem level. Ecol. Let. 10: 1170-1181.

  4. Edwards, K.F., Litchman, E., Klausmeier, C.A., 2013. Functional traits explain phytoplankton community structure and seasonal dynamics in a marine ecosystem. Ecol. Let. 16: 56-63.