Department Aquatic Ecology

Phytoplankton Ecology


Our research aims at understanding the mechanisms that maintain biodiversity in planktonic ecosystems, and the conditions that (sometimes) favour the dominance of a single taxon (or genotype). Specifically, we focus on the abiotic and biotic controls of phytoplankton community dynamics in lakes, and the factors that trigger toxic cyanobacterial blooms. We study the feedbacks between plankton phenotypic or genetic changes, population responses, species interactions and food-web dynamics in lakes affected by climate warming, eutrophication and pollution.

We approach the topic from a trait-based perspective to mechanistically link individual and population level responses to community and ecosystem level processes. We aim at mapping species interactions in complex and interconnected ecosystems, at inferring phytoplankton responses at different scales (from local to regional, from hours to decades), and at developing data-driven models to forecast changes in plankton biodiversity and aquatic ecosystem services (e.g. cyanobacterial blooms and water quality).

We study plankton communities in their natural environment using high frequency automated monitoring, historical series of lake monitoring data, DNA meta-barcoding, and mesocosm experiments. We continuously explore, develop and test new tools and approaches for monitoring plankton community dynamics, biodiversity and water quality.

Some current research interests include:

  • Relative importance of abiotic (resource supply, water physics) and biotic (competition, facilitation, trophic interactions) mechanisms driving phytoplankton growth rates
  • Meta-analyses of lake monitoring data to understand the effects of warming and eutrophication on plankton communities
  • Mechanisms leading to (toxic) cyanobacterial blooms and their consequences for food-web and ecosystem functioning
  • Data analysis methods to infer divers and responses in complex ecological datasets
  • Development of in-situ or portable monitoring tools for plankton
  • Forecasting of biodiversity change

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


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 ...
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.


Ewa Merz Tel. +41 58 765 5784 Send Mail
Marta Reyes Research Technician Tel. +41 58 765 6725 Send Mail