Microbial Ecology

, Volume 65, Issue 4, pp 995–1010 | Cite as

Harmful Cyanobacterial Blooms: Causes, Consequences, and Controls

  • Hans W. PaerlEmail author
  • Timothy G. Otten
Environmental Microbiology


Cyanobacteria are the Earth’s oldest oxygenic photoautotrophs and have had major impacts on shaping its biosphere. Their long evolutionary history (∼3.5 by) has enabled them to adapt to geochemical and climatic changes, and more recently anthropogenic modifications of aquatic environments, including nutrient over-enrichment (eutrophication), water diversions, withdrawals, and salinization. Many cyanobacterial genera exhibit optimal growth rates and bloom potentials at relatively high water temperatures; hence global warming plays a key role in their expansion and persistence. Bloom-forming cyanobacterial taxa can be harmful from environmental, organismal, and human health perspectives by outcompeting beneficial phytoplankton, depleting oxygen upon bloom senescence, and producing a variety of toxic secondary metabolites (e.g., cyanotoxins). How environmental factors impact cyanotoxin production is the subject of ongoing research, but nutrient (N, P and trace metals) supply rates, light, temperature, oxidative stressors, interactions with other biota (bacteria, viruses and animal grazers), and most likely, the combined effects of these factors are all involved. Accordingly, strategies aimed at controlling and mitigating harmful blooms have focused on manipulating these dynamic factors. The applicability and feasibility of various controls and management approaches is discussed for natural waters and drinking water supplies. Strategies based on physical, chemical, and biological manipulations of specific factors show promise; however, a key underlying approach that should be considered in almost all instances is nutrient (both N and P) input reductions; which have been shown to effectively reduce cyanobacterial biomass, and therefore limit health risks and frequencies of hypoxic events.


Phytoplankton Cyanobacterial Bloom Water Residence Time Vertical Stratification Neuse River Estuary 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank A. Joyner and N. Hall for technical assistance and J. Huisman, J. Dyble Bressie, P. Moisander, and V. Paul for contributions and helpful discussions. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation (OCE 07269989, 0812913, 0825466, and CBET 0826819, 1230543, and Dimensions of Biodiversity 1240851), U.S. EPA-STAR project R82867701, and the NOAA/EPA-ECOHAB project NA05NOS4781194, the North Carolina Sea Grant Program R/MER-47, and California Delta Stewardship Council project 2044.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Marine SciencesUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillMorehead CityUSA
  2. 2.Department of MicrobiologyOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

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