Abstract. Organic phosphorus can be one of the major fractions of phosphorus in many aquatic ecosystems. Unfortunately, in many studies the ‘organic’ P fraction is operationally defined. However, there are an increasing number of studies where the organic P species have been structurally characterised – in part because of the adoption of 31P NMR spectroscopic techniques. There are five classes of organic P species that have been specifically identified in the aquatic environment – nucleic acids, other nucleotides, inositol phosphates, phospholipids and phosphonates. This paper explores the identification, quantification, biogeochemical cycling and ecological significance of these organic P compounds. Based on this analysis, the paper then identifies a number of principles which could guide the research of organic P into the future. There is an ongoing need to develop methods for quickly and accurately identifying and quantifying organic P species in the environment. The types of ecosystems in which organic P dynamics are studied needs to be expanded; flowing waters, floodplains and small wetlands are currently all under-represented in the literature. While enzymatic hydrolysis is an important transformation pathway for the breakdown of organic P, more effort needs to be directed towards studying other potential transformation pathways. Similarly effort should be directed to estimating the rates of transformations, not simply reporting on the concentrations. And finally, further work is needed in elucidating other roles of organic P in the environment other than simply a source of P to aquatic organisms.