Aim:Aegagropila linnaei is a freshwater macroalga that is generally regarded as a rare species. It is apparently absent from large but seemingly suitable areas of the Northern Hemisphere, implying a limited dispersal potential and an imprint of Pleistocene glaciations in its biogeography. However, despite the popularity of its enigmatic lake ball-form, detailed biogeographical studies of A. linnaei have never been conducted. The main means of reproduction of A. linnaei is fragmentation and akinetes are not formed, supporting the assumption of limited dispersal capacity. The aim of this study was to reconstruct the biogeography of A. linnaei, and to identify possible refugia during glaciations, as well as to evaluate dispersal potential by quantitative desiccation experiments. Location: Palaearctic. Methods: The current distribution of A. linnaei was inferred from herbarium specimens, literature data and recent field observations. All herbarium specimens were morphologically re-examined. Desiccation experiments were performed with vegetative filaments of three isolates of A. linnaei, as no specialized resistant stages are known. For comparison, the widespread freshwater algae Cladophora glomerata and Rhizoclonium sp. were included. Internal transcribed spacer (ITS) ribosomal DNA sequences were generated and a ribotype network was constructed. Results:Aegagropila linnaei was recorded from 283 locations in freshwater and brackish environments. The majority of locations were in central and northern Europe in previously glaciated areas. Desiccation experiments showed that A. linnaei is very susceptible to desiccation. Based on ITS sequences of 34 samples, five different ribotypes were identified. Four of these ribotypes had a restricted distribution. Aegagropila linnaei represents a single species with little genetic variation (0.1–0.5%). Main conclusions This is the most comprehensive study of this species so far, reporting many new locations and tackling several taxonomic problems. Few additional finds were made from North America, and the origin of A. linnaei is inferred to be in Asia. The highest density of its present-day locations is in previously glaciated areas in Europe, where glacial ice-dammed lakes might have functioned as refugia. Low effective long-distance dispersal capacity is inferred, based on high susceptibility to desiccation and its modes of dispersal.