Twenty years after model equations describing the in situ growth rates of phytoplankton were first devised and eight since their successful incorporation into a computer simulation was first published, we set out to affirm the general validity and utility of PROTECH (Phytoplankton RespOnses To Environmental Change). Elaborated originally for commercial purposes, PROTECH has been shown to be capable of simulating simultaneous seasonal fluctuations in the standing crops of several contrasting species of alga, making it attractive for testing the impacts of various simulated regimes for managing the growth conditions. These have been sufficiently convincing to persuade us to use PROTECH as a research tool; over a number of years, it has been used to simulate such ‘traditional’ problems of ecology as succession, competitive exclusion and species diversity, in the context of intermediate disturbance. In this paper, we review critically the workings of the model, especially how complex but consistent outcomes emerge in compliance with simple trait-based rules of community assembly. We affirm that temperature-specific growth rates of algae are strongly influenced by algal morphology, that slender species are tolerant of low average light exposure and that periodicity is related to species-specific characteristics of motility and buoyant behaviour. The results of some applications of PROTECH are presented, simulating responses of the phytoplankton community to adjustments in nutrient loading, light penetration and hydrological flushing rates; an explicit investigation of the sensitivity of population responses of Cyanobacteria to eutrophication is also reported, in the context of varying availabilities of combined inorganic nitrogen.
Considering future developments of PROTECH, we affirm the virtues of its central growth equations; we anticipate that future applications will mostly depend upon improved representation of the physical environments it seeks to simulate and that these may more frequently relate to aquatic systems other than the lakes and reservoirs for which it was originally devised.