Image 01 Image 02

Gossenköllesee (Regular)

Operator: University of Innsbruck, Institute of Ecology
DEIMS Database: Gossenköllesee
Contact: Birgit Sattler and Ruben Sommaruga

Site description

Gossenköllesee is the smallest UNESCO biosphere reserve in the world. It is located in the Stubaier Alps at an elevation range of 2,417 m (lake level) to 2,828 m a.s.l. (Pirchkogel) at 47° 14´N and 11° 01´E, and has an area of 85 ha. During the ice age the whole area was glaciated. After the retreat of the ice at the beginning of the Holocene period, several lakes were formed, four of which still exist with the largest being Gossenköllesee. An already existing limnological research station, established in 1959 at the shore of a large alpine lake (Vorderer Finstertaler See), was flooded during the construction of a dam. Both lakes, Vorderer and Hinterer Finstertaler See, were converted into a reservoir for hydroelectric power generation in 1974. So a new station was built in 1975 on the opposite slope of the Kühtai Valley, called Limnological Station Gossenköllesee, which was completely redesigned and enlarged in 1995. In order to secure the future of long-term ecological research at the site, the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Gossenköllesee was established in 1977.

Gossenköllesee is characteristic for high alpine regions and a largely intact, natural environment. The focus of scientific interest in the BR Gossenköllesee is the long-term alteration of alpine lakes, streams and entire catchments. After 25 years, this is still an attractive and highly relevant subject for both ecological research and environmental protection. Gossenköllesee has been a core site in different EU projects since 1992 (ALPE, MOLAR, EMERGE) and it is included in the EUROLIMPACS Integrated Project and the ALTER-NET Network of Excellence (6th Framework Program). For three decades, atmospheric deposition, lakes, streams, soils and vegetation of the biosphere reserve have been the subjects of MA and PhD theses and international projects. From 2004 onwards, the BR Gossenköllesee, as a unique center for scientific education, became a core site for the research focus of the University of Innsbruck (Alpiner Raum – Alpine Space).

The importance of the station for research and teaching is illustrated by a few facts:

  • Since the renovation of the research station (1994) c. 3.5 million Euros have been invested in research, this amounts to a total investment of c. 5.7 million Euros since the erection of the station in 1975.
  • Since 1975 more than 30 students have written either their MA or PhD thesis about research subjects regarding the BR Gossenköllesee.
  • Up to now, more than 200 reports, theses and scientific papers have been published.
  • Since 1997, ca. 150 talks or posters have been presented at scientific events.
  • Results from the biosphere reserve have received great attention in the media (newspapers, journals, magazines, radio and television): more than 100 reports, more than 30 interviews and ~10 TV documentaries have been broadcast.


  • Kammerlander B., Koinig K.A., Rott E., Sommaruga R., Tartarotti B., Trattner F., Sonntag B. (2016): Ciliate community structure and interactions within the planktonic food web in two alpine lakes of contrasting transparency. Freshwater Biology, 61 (11), 1950-1965.

  • Rofner C., Peter H., Catalán N., Drewes F., Sommaruga R., Pérez M.T. (2016): Climate-related changes of soil characteristics affect bacterial communiy composition and function of high altitude and latitude lakes. Global Change Biology.

  • Rofner, C., Sommaruga, R. and Teresa Pérez, M. (2016): Phosphate and ATP uptake by lake bacteria: does taxonomical identity matter? Environ Microbiol, 18: 4782–4793. doi:10.1111/1462-2920.13368

  • Drewes F, Peter H, Sommaruga R. (2016): Are viruses important in the plankton of highly turbid glacier-fed lakes? Scientific Reports, 6:24608. doi:10.1038/srep24608.

  • Rofner C., Sommaruga R., Pérez M.T. (2016): Differential utilization patterns of dissolved organic phosphorus compounds by heterotrophic bacteria in two mountain lakes. FEMS Microbiol Ecol 92 (9): fiw139; doi: 10.1093/femsec/fiw139

  • Filker, Sabine; Sommaruga, Ruben; Vila, Irma; Stoeck, Thorsten (2016): Microbial eukaryote plankton communities of high-mountain lakes from three continents exhibit strong biogeographic patterns. Molecular Ecology 25:2286-2301; doi: 10.1111/mec.13633

  • Skála, I. (2015): Zooplankton community composition of high mountain lakes in the Tatra Mts., the Alps in North Tyrol, and Scotland: relationship to pH, depth, organic carbon, and chlorophyll-a concentration. Acta Musei Silesiae, Scientiae Naturales, 64(2), 175-189; doi:10.1515/cszma-2015-0025

  • Pérez, M. T., Rofner, C. and Sommaruga, R. (2015): Dissolved organic monomer partitioning among bacterial groups in two oligotrophic lakes. Environmental Microbiology Reports, 7: 265–272. doi:10.1111/1758-2229.12240

  • Arellano, P. Fernández, J. F. López, N. L. Rose, U. Nickus, H. Thies, E. Stuchlik, L. Camarero, J. Catalan, and J. O. Grimalt (2014): Atmospheric deposition of polybromodiphenyl ethers in remote mountain regions of Europe. Atmos. Chem. Phys., 14, 4441-4457;; doi:10.5194/acp-14-4441-2014.

  • Arellano, P. Fernández, R. Fonts, N. L. Rose, U. Nickus, H. Thies, E. Stuchlík, L. Camarero, J. Catalan, and J. O. Grimalt (2015): Increasing and decreasing trends of the atmospheric deposition of organochlorine compounds in European remote areas during the last decade. Atmos. Chem. Phys., 15, 6069-6085,; doi:10.5194/acp-15-6069-201

  • Barend L. van Drooge, Guillem Garriga, Karin A. Koinig, Roland Psenner, Paul Pechan and Joan O. Grimalt (2014):  Sensitivity of a Remote Alpine System to the Stockholm and LRTAP Regulations in POP Emissions. Atmosphere 5(2), 198-210; doi:10.3390/atmos5020198

  • Peter, H., Hörtnagl, P., Reche, I. and Sommaruga, R. (2014): Bacterial diversity and composition during rain events with and without Saharan dust influence reaching a high mountain lake in the Alps. Environmental Microbiology Reports, 6: 618–624; doi:10.1111/1758-2229.12175

  • Kraus, F., Merlin, C., & Job, H. (2014): Biosphere reserves and their contribution to sustainable development. Zeitschrift für Wirtschaftsgeographie, 58(1), 164-180.

  • Marco Cantonati, Graziano Guella, Jiří Komárek, and Daniel Spitale (2014): Depth distribution of epilithic cyanobacteria and pigments in a mountain lake characterized by marked water-level fluctuations. Freshwater Science 33(2):537-547; doi:

  • Zuzana Čuperová, Evelyn Holzer, Ivette Salka, Ruben Sommaruga and Michal Koblížek (2013): Temporal Changes and Altitudinal Distribution of Aerobic Anoxygenic Phototrophs in Mountain Lakes. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 79(20): 20 6439-6446

  • van Drooge, Barend L., Garriga, Guillem, Koinig, Karin A., Psenner, Roland, Pechan, Paul, Grimalt Joan O. (2014): Sensitivity of a Remote Alpine System to the Stockholm and LRTAP Regulations in POP Emissions. Atmosphere 2014, 5, doi:10.3390/atmos50x000x atmosphere 

  • Čuperová, Z., Holzer, E., Salka, I. Sommaruga, R, and Koblížek, M. (2013): Temporal changes and altitudinal distribution of aerobic anoxygenic phototrophs in mountain lakes. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 79: 6439-6446 .

  • Sattler B., Post B, Fritz A. (2013): Living Communities Thriving in Various Ice Ecosystems. In: Seckbach J., Oren A., Stan-Lotter H. (eds.) Polyextremophiles: Life Under Multiple Forms of Stress, Cellular Origin, Life in Extreme Habitats and Astrobiology, 27:381-400. DOI

  • Sattler B, Post B. Remias D., Lütz C., Lettner H., Psenner R. (2012): Cold Alpine Regions. In: Life at Extremes, - Environments, Organisms and Strategies for Survival, Bell E. (Ed.), CABI, USA, pp. 138-154 .

  • Psenner R. & Sattler B. (2012): Life in a Changing Climate. In: Life at Extremes, - Environments, Organisms and Strategies for Survival, Bell E. (Ed.), CABI, USA:474-478.

  • Mladenov, N., Sommaruga, R., Morales-Baquero, R., Laurion, I., Camarero, L., Diéguez, M., Camacho, A., Delgado, A., Torres, O., Chen, Z., Felip, M. and Reche I. (2011): Dust inputs and bacteria influence dissolved organic matter in clear alpine lakes. Nature Communications 2: 405| DOI: 10.1038/ncomms1411 .

  • Orfeo, M.; Ventura, M.; Tartarotti, B.; Sommaruga, R. (2011): Body distribution and source of mycosporine-like amino acids in the cyclopoid copepod Cyclops abyssorum tatricus. In: JOURNAL OF PLANKTON RESEARCH 33/9, S. 1430 - 1444 .

  • Pérez, M. T. and Sommaruga, R. (2011): Temporal changes in the dominance of major planktonic bacterial groups in an alpine lake: discrepancy with their contribution to bacterial production. 2011, Aquatic Microbial Ecology 63: 161-170 .

  • Hörtnagl, P., M. T. Pérez, and R. Sommaruga (2011): Contrasting effects of ultraviolet radiation on the growth efficiency of freshwater bacteria. Aquatic Ecology 45: 125-136 .

  • Sonntag, B.; Summerer, M.; Sommaruga, R. (2011): Factors involved in the distribution pattern of ciliates in the water column of a transparent alpine lake. JOURNAL OF PLANKTON RESEARCH 33/3, S. 541 - 546 .

  • Schöner W.,  Prock S., Sattler B. (2011): Coole Forschung. Lernen und Forschen im Internationalen Polarjahr 2007/2008. Innsbruck: innsbruck university press (IUP) (= alpine space - man & environment 13). ISBN 978-3-902811-31-8.

  • Hörtnagl, P., M. T. Pérez, and R. Sommaruga (2010): Living at the border: a community and single­cell assessment of lake bacterioneuston activity. Limnology and Oceanography 55: 1134­1144.

  • Hörtnagl, P., M. T. Pérez, M. Zeder, and R. Sommaruga (2010): The bacterial community composition of the surface microlayer in a high mountain lake. FEMS Microbiology and Ecology 73: 458­467

  • Pérez, M. T., Hörtnagl, P., and Sommaruga, R. (2010): Contrasting ability to take up leucine and thymidine among freshwater bacterial groups: implications for bacterial production measurements. Environmental Microbiology 12: 74­82.

  • Camarero L., M. Rogora, R. Mosello, J. Anderson, A. Barbieri, I. Botev, M. Kernan, J. Kopacek, A. Korhola, A. Lotter, G. Muri, C. Postolache, E. Stuchlik, H. Thies, R. F. Wright (2009): Regionalisation of chemical variability in European mountain lakes. Freshwater Biology 54/12, 2452 - 2469 .

  • Camarero L., M. Rogora, R. Mosello, J. Anderson, A. Barbieri, I. Botev, M. Kernan, J. Kopacek, A. Korhola, A. Lotter, G. Muri, C. Postolache, E. Stuchlik, H. Thies, R. F. Wright (2009): Regionalisation of chemical variability in European mountain lakes. Freshwater Biology 54/12, 2452 - 2469.

  • Psenner R., Wille A., Priscu J.C., Felip M., Wagenbach D. and Sattler B. (2003): Low Temperature Environments and Biodiversity. In: Extremophiles: Ice Ecosystems and Biodiversity; in: Knowledge for Sustainable Development. An Insight into the Encyclopaedia of Life Support Systems Vol. III, pp 573-598, UNESCO Publishing-Eolss Publishers, Oxford, UK. Updated 2007 .

  • Felip M., Wille A., Sattler B. and Psenner R. (2002): Microbial communities in the winter cover and the water column of an alpine lake: system connectivity and uncoupling. Aquat. Microb. Ecol. 29:123-134.

  • 10.1007/978-94-007-6488-0-16, Springer Science + Business Media Dordrecht 2013 .

  • Sattler B., Puxbaum H. and Psenner R. (2001): Bacterial growth in supercooled cloud droplets. Geophys. Res. Letters 28(2):239-242.

  • Sommaruga R., Sattler B., Oberleiter A., Wille A., and Psenner R., Felip M., Camarero L., Pina S., Girones R. and Catalan J. (1999): An in-situ enclosure experiment to test the solar UVB impact on plankton in a high altitude mountain lake: II) effect on the microbial food web. J. Plankt. Res. 21(5):859-876.

  • Wille A., Sonntag B., Sattler B., and Psenner R. (1999):. Abundance, biomass and size structure of the microbial assemblage in the high mountain lake Gossenköllesee (Tyrol, Austria) during the ice-free period. J. Limnol. 58(2):117-126.

  • Wille, A., Sattler, B. and Psenner, R. (1999): Lake Ice Microbial Communities (LIMCOs) – Biology of a Periodic Ecotone. Verh. Int. Ver. Limnol. SIL-Dublin: 532.

  • Psenner R. & Sattler B. (1998): Life at the freezing point. Science 280:2073-2074.

  • Alfreider A., Pernthaler J., Amann R., Sattler B., Glöckner F.-O., Wille A.and Psenner R. (1996): Community analysis of the bacterial assemblages in the winter cover and pelagic layers of a high mountain lake using in situ hybridization. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 62 (6):2138-2144.

  • Felip M., Sattler B., Psenner R. and Catalan J. (1995): Highly active microbial communities in the ice and snow cover of high mountain lakes. Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 61 (6), 2394-2401.