Population Ecology


, Volume 152, Issue 3, pp 473-484

First online:

Climate change affects timing and size of populations of an invasive cyanobacterium in temperate regions

  • Claudia WiednerAffiliated withDepartment of Limnology of Stratified Lakes, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries Email author 
  • , Jacqueline RückerAffiliated withDepartment of Freshwater Conservation, Brandenburg University of Technology
  • , Rainer BrüggemannAffiliated withDepartment of Ecohydrology, Leibniz-Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries
  • , Brigitte NixdorfAffiliated withDepartment of Freshwater Conservation, Brandenburg University of Technology

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Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii, an invasive freshwater cyanobacterium, originated from the tropics but has spread to temperate zones over the last few decades. Its northernmost populations in Europe occur in North German lakes. How such dramatic changes in its biogeography are possible and how its population dynamics in the newly invaded habitats are regulated are still unexplained. We therefore conducted a long-term (1993–2005) study of two German lakes to elucidate the mechanisms behind C. raciborskii population dynamics and to identify the abiotic constraints on its development. Our data revealed that pelagic populations of C. raciborskii thrived for three months during the summer, contributing up to 23% of the total cyanobacteria biovolume. Population sizes varied greatly between years without exhibiting any distinct long-term trends. In the annual lifecycle, C. raciborskii filaments emerged in the pelagic habitat when the temperature rose above 15–17 °C. At that time, mean photosynthetically active radiation in the mixed water column (I mix) overstepped its maximum. Rates of population net increase were highest at the beginning of the season (0.15–0.28 day−1), declined continuously over time, and were significantly positively correlated with I mix. This indicates that the onset of the pelagic population is temperature-mediated and that I mix controls its growth. Since I mix peaks before the population onset, the time of germination is of crucial importance for successful development. To test this hypothesis, we designed a model to simulate pelagic population size, starting at different dates in the annual cycle. Moving the population onset forward by 30 days resulted in a doubling of the population size. We therefore conclude that an earlier rise in water temperature associated with climate change has promoted the spread of C. raciborskii to the temperate zone. Earlier warming permits earlier germination, thereby shifting the pelagic populations to a phase with higher I mix, which advances growth and the population establishment.


Nostocales Cylindrospermopsis raciborskii Population dynamics Lifecycle Biogeography