Past years have seen the development of different approaches to detect phytoplankton groups from space. One of these methods, the PHYSAT one, is empirically based on reflectance anomalies. Despite observations in good agreement with in situ measurements, the underlying theoretical explanation of the method is still missing and needed by the ocean color community as it prevents improvements of the methods and characterization of uncertainties on the inversed products. In this study, radiative transfer simulations are used in addition to in situ measurements to understand the organization of the signals used in PHYSAT. Sensitivity analyses are performed to assess the impact of the variability of the following three parameters on the reflectance anomalies: specific phytoplankton absorption, colored dissolved organic matter absorption, and particles backscattering. While the later parameter explains the largest part of the anomalies variability, results show that each group is generally associated with a specific bio-optical environment which should be considered to improve methods of phytoplankton groups detection.