Global geographical and historical overview of cyanotoxin distribution and cyanobacterial poisonings

Zorica Svirčev, Dijana Lalić (Lead / Corresponding author), Gorenka Bojadžija Savić, Nada Tokodi, Damjana Drobac Backović, Liang Chen, Jussi Meriluoto, Geoffrey A. Codd

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    242 Citations (Scopus)


    Cyanobacteria are photoautotrophic organisms which occur in aquatic and terrestrial environments. They have the potential to produce toxins which pose a threat to human and animal health. This review covers the global distribution of the common cyanotoxins and related poisoning cases. A total of 468 selected articles on toxic cyanobacteria, dating from the earliest records until 2018, were reviewed. Most of the articles were published after 2000 (72%; 337 out of 468), which is consistent with the recent growth in interest in the analysis, toxinology and ecotoxicology of cyanotoxins. Animal and/or human poisoning cases were described in more than a third of the overall publications (38%; 177 out of 468). The reviewed publications showed that there were 1118 recorded identifications of major cyanotoxins in 869 freshwater ecosystems from 66 countries throughout the world. Microcystins were the most often recorded cyanotoxins worldwide (63%; 699 out of 1118), followed by cylindrospermopsin (10%; 107 out of 1118), anatoxins (9%; 100 out of 1118), and saxitoxins (8%; 93 out of 1118). Nodularins were the most rarely recorded cyanotoxins (2%; 19 out of 1118); however, there were also reports where cyanotoxins were not analysed or specified (9%; 100 out of 1118). The most commonly found toxic cyanobacterial genera were Microcystis spp. (669 reports), Anabaena spp. (397 reports), Aphanizomenon spp. (100 reports), Planktothrix spp. (98 reports), and Oscillatoria spp. (75 reports). Furthermore, there were 183 recorded cyanotoxin poisonings of humans and/or animals. Out of all toxic cyanobacterial blooms reviewed in this paper, the highest percentage of associated poisonings was found in North and Central America (39%; 69 cases out of 179), then Europe (20%; 35 out of 179), Australia including New Zealand (15%; 27 out of 179), and Africa (11%; 20 out of 179), while the lowest percentage was related to Asia (8%; 14 cases out of 179) and South America (8%; 14 cases out of 179). Events where only animals were known to have been affected were 63% (114 out of 182), whereas 32% (58 out of 182) of the investigated events involved only humans. A historical overview of human and animal poisoning episodes associated with cyanobacterial blooms is presented. Further, geographical data on the occurrence of cyanotoxins and related poisonings based on the available literature are shown. Some countries (mainly European) have done very intensive research on the occurrence of toxic cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins, and reported related ecotoxicological observations, while in some countries the lack of data is apparent. The true global extent of cyanotoxins and associated poisonings is likely to be greater than found in the available literature, and it can be assumed that ecotoxicological and hygienic problems caused by toxic cyanobacteria may occur in more environments.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2429-2481
    Number of pages53
    JournalArchives of Toxicology
    Issue number9
    Early online date26 Jul 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019


    • Cyanobacteria
    • Cyanotoxins
    • Geographical distribution
    • Health
    • Poisoning

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Toxicology
    • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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