Department Aquatic Ecology

Phytoplankton Ecology

We are part of the Institute of Integrative Biology (IBZ) and the Department of Environmental Systems Science (D-USYS) at ETH Zürich. Our group is based at Eawag in Dübendorf, where we have our offices and labs.

Our research focuses on the environmental controls and lake ecosystem consequences of phytoplankton community dynamics at different spatial and temporal scales (from local to regional, from hours to decades). 

We approach the topic from a trait-based perspective to link individual and population level responses to community and ecosystem level processes. Our goal is to understand the drivers and mechanisms governing phytoplankton community responses at different scales, and to use this information to predict future changes in plankton biodiversity and aquatic ecosystem services (e.g. forecasting of cyanobacterial blooms).

We address high profile fundamental questions in microbial ecology and evolution. We are interested in the effects that anthropogenic environmental change has on biodiversity and community dynamics, and on the role that individual level variability in functional traits and phenotypes has for larger scale processes. We aim at understanding the feedbacks between plankton phenotypic changes, population responses and food-web dynamics in lakes that are changing due to eutrophication, pollution and climate warming.

We study phytoplankton communities in their natural environment by using historical series of lake monitoring data, high frequency automated monitoring, environmental DNA, and in situ experiments. For this reasons we explore, develop and test new tools and approaches for monitoring plankton diversity and water quality.

Main research topics

  • Linking individual-level trait variation to changes in population dynamics, species interactions and aquatic ecosystem processes in fluctuating environments
  • Relative importance of bottom up (resource supply), water physics (turbulence) and top-down (zooplankton grazing) controls on phytoplankton community structure
  • Development of in-situ monitoring tools for understanding and forecasting phytoplankton population and community dynamics
  • Meta-analyses of lake monitoring data to understand mechanisms of phytoplankton community change over decades of climate warming and eutrophication
  • Causes of cyanobacterial blooms and their consequences for food-web and ecosystem functioning
  • Interactions between natural environmental gradients and emerging chemical pollutants on phytoplankton community dynamics
  • Importance of plankton biodiversity for the fate of water-borne chemical pollutants

For more specific information browse the projects below or see our publication list on GoogleScholar and Mendeley.


Dr. Francesco PomatiTel. +41 58 765 5410Send Mail

Join our group!

M.Sc. students, bachelor students and interns are always welcome. For further information please contact Dr Francesco Pomati.

Current Projects

Identification of transformation products and assessment of environmental relevance
The impact of cyanobacterial blooms triggered by nutrient pollution on aquatic environments in the context of climate change. A Romanian-Swiss collaboration.
Combining innovative approaches to phytoplankton and lake-ecosystem monitoring with community and ecosystem theory to to understand plankton-driven ecosystem processes.
One of the most important challenges in environmental toxicology is to understand how responses to chemical pollutants scale through levels of biological complexity...
Understanding how environmentally relevant exposure scenarios to water-borne micropollutants affect physiological, ecological and evolutionary responses at different spatial and temporal scales.
Complex systems theory meets big phytoplankton trait data.


Dr. Francesco PomatiTel. +41 58 765 5410Send Mail
Raphael BossartTel. +41 58 765 5934Send Mail
Thea KozakiewiczTel. +41 58 765 5972Send Mail
Ewa MerzTel. +41 58 765 5784Send Mail
Marta ReyesResearch TechnicianTel. +41 58 765 6725Send Mail