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Since the beginning of the 1990s, Lake Garda showed the appearance of extended surface water blooms of Dolichospermum lemmermannii (Nostocales, Cyanobacteria). Between the 1990s and the 2000s, the blooms appeared also in the other large lakes south of the Alps (Iseo, Como and Maggiore). Despite the sudden appearance of the blooms, the correct identification of the establishment time of the populations of Dolichospermum in the southern subalpine lake district remained unclear. In this work, the establishment of the populations of D. lemmermannii in Lake Garda has been evaluated by the direct counting of sub-fossil akinetes extracted from sediment cores, and by estimating the abundance of filaments germinated from sub-fossil viable akinetes. The two techniques provided comparable results, allowing locating the beginning of the establishment of Dolichospermum around the middle of the 1960s. Four strains of Dolichospermum germinated from akinetes isolated from the core sediments between around the 1989 and 2012 did not show any mutation or recombination signal in the rpob gene sequences, suggesting a strong founder effect. The establishment of Dolichospermum coincided with the beginning of the rapid increase of total phosphorus as inferred from the distribution of sub-fossil diatoms in the sediment core. These results supported the hypothesis of a strong link between the shift of Lake Garda from ultraoligotrophy/oligotrophy to oligo-mesotrophy and the development of Dolichospermum. This colonisation pattern was possibly reinforced by the increase in the water temperatures in the subalpine lake district during the last 3 decades. In warmer lakes, gas-vacuolated Nostocales are favoured by high replication rates and, in particular, by their ability to control vertical movements in stratified water columns. This allows these species to exploit the gradients of light and nutrients, giving them a competitive advantage compared to other species. From a management point of view, the control and decrease of Dolichospermum should be obtained through the reduction and control of nutrient loads to the lake.
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