Schindler's legacy: from eutrophic lakes to the phosphorus utilization strategies of cyanobacteria

FEMS Microbiol Rev. 2022 Nov 2;46(6):fuac029. doi: 10.1093/femsre/fuac029.


David Schindler and his colleagues pioneered studies in the 1970s on the role of phosphorus in stimulating cyanobacterial blooms in North American lakes. Our understanding of the nuances of phosphorus utilization by cyanobacteria has evolved since that time. We review the phosphorus utilization strategies used by cyanobacteria, such as use of organic forms, alternation between passive and active uptake, and luxury storage. While many aspects of physiological responses to phosphorus of cyanobacteria have been measured, our understanding of the critical processes that drive species diversity, adaptation and competition remains limited. We identify persistent critical knowledge gaps, particularly on the adaptation of cyanobacteria to low nutrient concentrations. We propose that traditional discipline-specific studies be adapted and expanded to encompass innovative new methodologies and take advantage of interdisciplinary opportunities among physiologists, molecular biologists, and modellers, to advance our understanding and prediction of toxic cyanobacteria, and ultimately to mitigate the occurrence of blooms.

Keywords: Cyanobacterial blooms; Michaelis-Menten; Monod; eutrophication; nutrient limitation; phytoplankton.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cyanobacteria* / physiology
  • Eutrophication
  • Lakes* / microbiology
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus


  • Phosphorus
  • Nitrogen