Assessing and predicting bloom dynamics and toxin production by Microcystis requires analysis of toxic and nontoxic Microcystis genotypes in natural communities. We show that genetic differentiation of Microcystis colonies based on rRNA internal transcribed spacer (ITS) sequences provides an adequate basis for recognition of microcystin producers. Consequently, ecological studies of toxic and nontoxic cyanobacteria are now possible through studies of rRNA ITS genotypic diversity in isolated cultures or colonies and in natural communities. A total of 107 Microcystis colonies were isolated from 15 lakes in Europe and Morocco, the presence of microcystins in each colony was examined by matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization-time of flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-TOF MS), and they were grouped by rRNA ITS denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) typing. Based on DGGE analysis of amplified ITSa and ITSc fragments, yielding supplementary resolution (I. Janse et al., Appl. Environ. Microbiol. 69:6634-6643, 2003), the colonies could be differentiated into 59 classes. Microcystin-producing and non-microcystin-producing colonies ended up in different classes. Sequences from the rRNA ITS of representative strains were congruent with the classification based on DGGE and confirmed the recognition of microcystin producers on the basis of rRNA ITS. The rRNA ITS sequences also confirmed inconsistencies reported for Microcystis identification based on morphology. There was no indication for geographical restriction of strains, since identical sequences originated from geographically distant lakes. About 28% of the analyzed colonies gave rise to multiple bands in DGGE profiles, indicating either aggregation of different colonies, or the occurrence of sequence differences between multiple operons. Cyanobacterial community profiles from two Dutch lakes from which colonies had been isolated showed different relative abundances of genotypes between bloom stages and between the water column and surface scum. Although not all bands in the community profiles could be matched with isolated colonies, the profiles suggest a dominance of nontoxic colonies, mainly later in the season and in scums.