Acclimation, adaptation, traits and trade-offs in plankton functional type models – seeking clarity in terminology

Kevin J. Flynn, Michael St. John, John A. Raven, David O.F. Skibinski, Icarus Allen, Aditee Mitra, Eileen E. Hofmann

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


We propose definitions in terminology to enhance ongoing collaborations between biologists and modellers on plankton ecology. Organism “functional type” should refer to commonality in ecology not biogeochemistry; the latter is
largely an emergent property of the former, while alignment with ecology is also consistent with usage in terrestrial science. Adaptation should be confined, as in genetics, to consideration of species inter-generational change; most socalled “adaptive” plankton models are thus acclimative, modifying vital rates in response to stimuli. Trait trade-off approaches should ideally only be considered for describing intra-generational interactions; in applications between generations, and certainly between unrelated species, such concepts should be avoided. We suggest that systems biology approaches, through to complex adaptive/acclimative systems modelling, with explicit modelling of feedback processes (which we suggest should define “mechanistic” models), would provide realistic and flexible bases upon which to develop descriptions of functional type models
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Plankton Research
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)683-691
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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