1. The hypothesis that cyanobacteria have higher optimum growth temperatures and higher growth rates at the optimum as compared to chlorophytes was tested by running a controlled experiment with eight cyanobacteria species and eight chlorophyte species at six different temperatures (20–35 °C) and by performing a literature survey.
2. In the experiment, all organisms except the chlorophyte Monoraphidium minutum grew well up to 35 °C. The chlorophyte Chlamydomonas reinhardtii was the fastest-growing organism over the entire temperature range (20–35 °C).
3. Mean optimum growth temperatures were similar for cyanobacteria (29.2 °C) and chlorophytes (29.2 °C). These results are concordant with published data, yielding slightly higher mean optimum growth temperatures for cyanobacteria (27.2 °C) than for chlorophytes (26.3 °C).
4. Mean growth rates of cyanobacteria at 20 °C (0.42 day−1) were significantly lower than those of chlorophytes at 20 °C (0.62 day−1). However, at all other temperatures, there were no differences between mean growth rates of cyanobacteria and chlorophytes.
5. Mean growth rates at the optimum temperature were similar for cyanobacteria (0.92 day−1) and chlorophytes (0.96 day−1). However, analysis of published data revealed that growth rates of cyanobacteria (0.65 day−1) were significantly lower than those of chlorophytes (0.93 day−1) at their optimum temperatures.
6. Although climate warming will probably lead to an intensification of cyanobacterial blooms, our results indicate that this might not be as a result of higher growth rates of cyanobacteria compared with their chlorophyte competitors. The competitive advantage of cyanobacteria can more likely be attributed to their ability to migrate vertically and prevent sedimentation in warmer and more strongly stratified waters and to their resistance to grazing, especially when warming reduces zooplankton body size.