Although it is generally believed that cyanobacteria have high temperature optima for growth (> 20° C), mat-foming cyanobacteria are dominant in many types of lakes, streams, and ponds in the Arctic and Antarctic. We studied the effect of temperature on growth (μ) and relative pigment composition of 27 isolates of cyanobacteria (mat-forming Oscillatoriaceae) from the Arctic, subarctic, and Antarctic to investigate whether they are a) adapted to the low temperature (i.e. psychrophilic) or b) tolerant of the low temperature of the polar regions (i.e. psychrotrophic). We also derived a parabolic function that describes both the rise and the decline of cyanobacterial growth rates with increasing temperature. The cyanobacteria were cultured at seven different temperatures (5°-35° C at 5° C intervals), with continuous illumination of 225 μmol photons.m−2.s−1. The parabolic function fits the μ-temperature data with 90% confidence for 75% of the isolates. Among the 27 isolates of cyanobacteria studied, the temperature optima (Topt) for growth ranged from 15° to 35° C, with an average of 19.9° C. These results imply that most polar cyanobacteria are psychrotrophs, not psychrophiles. The cyanobacteria grew over a wide temperature range (typically 20° C) but growth rates were low men at Topt (average μmax of 0.23 ± 0.069 d−1). Extremely slow growth rates at low temperature and the high temperature for optimal growth imply that the cyanobacteria are not adapted genetically to cold temperatures, which characterize their ambient environment. Other competitive advantages such as tolerance to desiccation, freeze—thaw cycles, and bright, continuous solar radiation may contribute to their dominance in polar aquatic ecosystems.