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Keywords:

  • biodiversity;
  • classification;
  • functional diversity;
  • niche;
  • traits

Summary

1. While studies of phytoplankton and terrestrial plant communities have increasingly emphasised the use of functional traits in ecological research, few have yet to apply this approach to zooplankton communities.

2. This study reviews laboratory and observational studies on zooplankton feeding and life history and provides a series of functional trait tables for the North American freshwater zooplankton. Qualitative and quantitative trait tables highlight areas where data were more scarce and point to which types of studies could fill in gaps in our knowledge of zooplankton niches.

3. Data were most complete for the Cladocera across most traits, while feeding information for cyclopoids was most sparse. Qualitative data that distinguished congeneric species were lacking for most groups.

4. A regional community dendrogram for common north-eastern North American zooplankton species was generated and shows that taxonomic differences between species do not capture fully functional differences based on the traits of body length, habitat, trophic group and feeding type.

5. The data collected here, combined with readily measurable species attributes, can be used to generate a multivariate measure of the functional niche of each species found in a community. Armed with this information, functional relationships that are useful for ecological studies of lake ecosystems can be more easily conducted.