Are diatoms good integrators of temporal variability in stream water quality?

  • Lavoie I
  • Campeau S
  • Darchambeau F
 et al. 
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1. Although diatoms have been used for many decades for river monitoring around the world, studies showing evidence that diatoms integrate temporal variability in water chemistry are scarce.

2. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the response of the Eastern Canadian Diatom Index (IDEC: Indice Diatome ´es de l’Est du Canada) with respect to temporal water chemistry variability using three different spatio-temporal data sets.

3. Along a large phosphorus gradient, the IDEC was highly correlated with averaged water chemistry data. Along within-stream phosphorus gradients, the IDEC integrated phos- phorus over various periods of time, depending on the trophic status of the site studied (Boyer, Nicolet or Ste. Anne river) and variability in nutrient concentration.

4. In the Ste. Anne River, where nutrient concentrations were low and generally stable, an input of phosphorus induced a rapid change in diatom community structure and IDEC value within the following week. In the mesotrophic Nicolet River, the observed integration period was approximately 2 weeks. Diatom communities in the eutrophic Boyer River appeared to be adapted to frequent and significant fluctuations in nutrient concentrations. In this system, the IDEC therefore showed a slower response to short term fluctuations and integrated nutrient concentrations over a period of 5 weeks.

5. Our results suggest that the integration period varies as a function of trophic status and nutrient concentration variability in the streams. Oligotrophic streams are more sensitive to nutrient variations and their diatom communities are directly altered by nutrient increase, while diatom communities of eutrophic rivers are less sensitive to nutrient fluctuations and major variations take a longer time to be integrated into index values.

6. The longer integration period in the eutrophic environment may be attributed to the complexity of the diatom community. The results from this study showed that the diversity and evenness of the communities increased with trophic status.

in all cases, diatoms and IDEC values have weak relationships with one-time chem- istry measurements and the relationships improve as soon as averages are used

Author-supplied keywords

  • Benthic diatoms
  • Biological integrity
  • Streams
  • Temporal variability
  • Water quality

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  • Isabelle Lavoie

  • Stéphane Campeau

  • François Darchambeau

  • Gilbert Cabana

  • Peter J. Dillon

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