• comparative method;
  • parameter estimation;
  • phylogeny;
  • phytoplankton;
  • trade-offs;
  • traits

The quantitative characterization of the ecology of individual phytoplankton taxa is essential for model resolution of many aspects of aquatic ecosystems. Existing literature cannot directly parameterize all phytoplankton taxa of interest, as many traits and taxa have not been sampled. However, valuable clues on the value of traits are found in the evolutionary history of species and in common correlations between traits. These two resources were exploited with an existing, statistically consistent method built upon evolutionary concepts. From a new data set with >700 observations on freshwater phytoplankton traits and a qualitative phytoplankton phylogeny, estimates were derived for the size, growth rate, phosphate affinity, and susceptibility to predation of 277 phytoplankton types, from evolutionary ancestors to present-day species. These estimates account simultaneously for phylogenetic relationships between types, as imposed by the phylogeny, and approximate power-law relationships (e.g., allometric scaling laws) between traits, as reconstructed from the data set. Results suggest that most phytoplankton traits are to some extent conserved in evolution: cross-validation demonstrated that the use of phylogenetic information significantly improves trait value estimates. By providing trait value estimates as well as uncertainties, these results could benefit most quantitative studies involving phytoplankton.