Aquatic Ecology

, Volume 51, Issue 1, pp 117–130 | Cite as

Competition between a toxic and a non-toxic Microcystis strain under constant and pulsed nitrogen and phosphorus supply

  • Saara Suominen
  • Verena S. Brauer
  • Anne Rantala-Ylinen
  • Kaarina Sivonen
  • Teppo Hiltunen


The toxicity of a harmful algal bloom is strongly determined by the relative abundance of non-toxic and toxic genotypes and might therefore be regulated by competition for growth-limiting resources. Here, we studied how the toxic Microcystis aeruginosa strain PCC 7806 and a non-toxic mutant compete for nitrogen and phosphorus under constant and pulsed nutrient supply. Our monoculture and competition experiments show that these closely related genotypes have distinct nutrient physiologies and that they differ in their ability to compete for nitrogen and phosphorus. The toxic wild type won the competition under nitrogen limitation, while the non-toxic mutant dominated under phosphorus limitation. Pulses of both nitrogen and phosphorus increased the dominance of the toxic genotype, which lead to an even faster competitive exclusion of the non-toxic genotype under nitrogen pulses and to coexistence of both genotypes under phosphorus pulses. Our findings indicate that the genotype level dynamics driven by resource competition can be an important factor in determining cyanobacterial bloom toxicity.


Algal toxins Droop model Harmful cyanobacteria Nutrient limitation Microcosm Microcystis aeruginosa Plankton dynamics Resource pulses Quantitative PCR 



We thank Lyudmila Saari and Matti Wahlsten for technical assistance, Prof. Elke Dittmann for providing the mutant Microcystis strain and Riitta Ilola and Jaakko Vaininpää for nutrient analysis and Jouni Jokela for advising with the analysis. We also thank Johannes Cairns for editing the language and two anonymous reviewers and editor for helpful comments. This work was funded by University of Helsinki 3-year Grant (2015–2018) to T.H. and Academy of Finland (project #106993 to T.H.).

Supplementary material

10452_2016_9603_MOESM1_ESM.docx (30 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 29 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Food and Environmental Sciences/Microbiology and BiotechnologyUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland
  2. 2.Department of Aquatic Microbiology, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem DynamicsUniversity of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Groningen Institute for Evolutionary Life SciencesUniversity of GroningenGroningenThe Netherlands
  4. 4.Biofilm CentreUniversity of Duisburg-EssenEssenGermany

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