Stratification by cyanobacteria in lakes: a dynamic buoyancy model indicates size limitations met by Planktothrix rubescens filaments


Author for correspondence:Anthony E. Walsby Tel: +44 (0)117 928 7490 Email:


  • • The ability of the Planktothrix rubescens to stratify in Lake Zürich is related to the size and shape of the cyanobacterial filaments.
  • • Detailed measurements made in the lake are used in a dynamic computer model of buoyancy regulation to investigate the vertical movements of filaments tracking the depth at which the irradiance would support neutral buoyancy. The movement of the filament lags behind the constantly changing target depth owing to (a) the time taken for the filament to respond to the irradiance by changing its density and (b) the time it takes to move by sinking down or floating up through the water column.
  • • The model simulates the stratification depth over a 5-month period of the summer from the continuous measurements of irradiance and weekly measurements of light attenuation and temperature, without any further adjustment over the period. Models using filaments of the size observed in Lake Zürich explain several details of the observed depth changes: smaller planktonic cyanobacteria (e.g. Limnothrix sp.) are unable to migrate fast enough and larger ones (e.g. Anabaena spp.) will overshoot and become entrained in the epilimnion.
  • • The model can be used to simulate recruitment of Planktothrix filaments from different depths after vernal stratification. Recruitment of filaments from depths down to 45 m will contribute to the metalimnetic population increase in early July.