The role of live diatoms in bioassessment: A large-scale study of Western US Streams

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Diatom-based stream bioassessment is constantly being improved to meet the increasing demands of water quality management. This study examined whether percentage of live diatoms (PLD) in periphyton communities can be used as a metric of human disturbance in streams and rivers. The analyzed dataset (587 sites) was collected over the course of 3 years (2000-2002) from 12 Western US states (US EPA's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program). The mean PLD in Western streams and rivers was low (34.50%) and highly variable (range 2.08-97.02%). It did not differ significantly between the Mountains (MT, 36.38%) and the Xeric (XE, 35.49%) ecoregions, but it was significantly (P<0.05) greater than that in the Plains ecoregion (PL, 28.27%). PLD distinguished reference from impacted sites in the MT (P<0.05) and somewhat in the PL (P = 0.05). However, PLD exhibited opposite patterns in the two ecoregions. It increased with human disturbance in the MT and decreased in the PL due to a potential subsidy-stress gradient of available resources. The different pattern may be largely interpreted by the quality of the reference conditions in each ecoregion. In the MT ecoregion, the selected reference sites may resemble very closely the natural state in this ecoregion. In contrast, human disturbance is much more pervasive in the low-land PL ecoregion and the "reference sites" may reflect the best attainable conditions in this ecoregion. PLD as a metric has potential for monitoring human disturbance of streams, if reference sites represent natural conditions and differing responses among regions are included in expected effects.


Biological and Environmental Sciences

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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011.



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