A theoretical modeling framework for motile and colonial harmful algae

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Climate change is leading to an increase in severity, frequency, and distribution of harmful algal blooms across the globe. For many harmful algae species in eutrophic lakes, the formation of such blooms is controlled by three factors: the lake hydrodynamics, the vertical motility of the algae organisms, and the ability of the organisms to form colonies. Here, using the common cyanobacterium Microcystis aeruginosa as an example, we develop a model that accounts for both vertical transport and colony dynamics. At the core of this treatment is a model for aggregation. For this, we used Smoluchowski dynamics containing parameters related to Brownian motion, turbulent shear, differential setting, and cell-to-cell adhesion. To arrive at a complete description of bloom formation, we place the Smoluchowski treatment as a reaction term in a set of one-dimensional advection-diffusion equations, which account for the vertical motion of the algal cells through molecular and turbulent diffusion and self-regulating buoyant motion. Results indicate that Smoluchowski aggregation qualitatively describes the colony dynamics of M. aeruginosa. Further, the model demonstrates wind-induced mixing is the dominant aggregation process, and the rate of aggregation is inversely proportional to algal concentration. Because blooms of Microcystis typically consist of large colonies, both of these findings have direct consequences to harmful algal bloom formation. While the theoretical framework outlined in this manuscript was derived for M. aeruginosa, both motility and colony formation are common among bloom-forming algae. As such, this coupling of vertical transport and colony dynamics is a useful step for improving forecasts of surface harmful algal blooms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere9042
JournalEcology and Evolution
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank the Ramsey Lake neighborhood association, the St. Anthony Falls Laboratory engineering and tech support team, Dr. Shahram Missaghi, and Dr. Jiaqi You for help with the Ramsey Lake data acquisition.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Ecology and Evolution published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Microcystis aeruginosa
  • aggregation dynamics
  • cyanobacteria
  • harmful algal bloom
  • theoretical biology
  • vertical motility


Dive into the research topics of 'A theoretical modeling framework for motile and colonial harmful algae'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this