AIMS Microbiology, 2018, 4(2): 304-318. doi: 10.3934/microbiol.2018.2.304

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Low temperatures can promote cyanobacterial bloom formation by providing refuge from microbial antagonists

Norwegian University of Life Sciences, Faculty for Environmental Sciences and Natural Resource Management, Postbox 5003, NO-1432 Ås, Norway

Freshwater cyanobacteria are prone to a wide range of highly potent microbial antagonists. Most of these exploit their prey in a frequency-dependent manner and are therefore particularly well suited to prevent any accumulation of cyanobacteria. Mass developments of cyanobacteria, the so-called blooms, should therefore be rare events, which is in striking contrast to what we actually see in nature. Laboratory experiments of the present study showed that the temperature range 5.8–10 °C forms a thermal refuge, inside which the cyanobacterium Planktothrix can grow without being exploited by two otherwise highly potent microbial antagonists. In nature, access of Planktothrix to this refuge was associated with positive net growth and a high probability of bloom formation, confirming that refuge temperatures indeed allow Planktothrix to grow with a minimum of biomass loss caused by microbial antagonists. Contact to higher temperatures, in contrast, was associated with decreases in net growth rate and in probability of bloom formation, with population collapses and with the occurrence of parasite infection. This is in agreement with the finding of laboratory experiments that above 10 °C exploitation of Planktothrix by multiple microbes increases in a temperature-dependent manner. Taken together, above findings suggest that temperature modulates the microbial control of natural Planktothrix populations. Low temperatures form a thermal refuge that may promote Planktothrix bloom formation by shielding the cyanobacterium from otherwise highly potent microbial antagonists.
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