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Ecology. 2013 Jul;94(7):1626-35.

Functional traits explain phytoplankton responses to environmental gradients across lakes of the United States.

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Kellogg Biological Station, Michigan State University, Hickory Corners, Michigan 49060, USA.


Ecological communities exhibit regular shifts in structure along environmental gradients, but it has proved difficult to dissect the mechanisms by which environmental conditions determine the relative success of species. Functional traits may provide a link between environmental drivers and mechanisms of community membership, but this has not been well tested for phytoplankton, which dominate primary production in many aquatic ecosystems. Here we test whether functional traits of phytoplankton can explain how species respond to gradients of light and phosphorus across U.S. lakes. We find that traits related to light utilization and maximum growth rate can predict species' differential responses to the relative availability of these resources. These results show that laboratory-measured traits are predictive of species' performance under natural conditions, that functional traits provide a mechanistic foundation for community ecology, and that variation in community structure is predictable in spite of the complexity of ecological communities.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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