Live Diatoms as Indicators of Urban Stormwater Runoff

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Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

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Diatom bioassessment of streams/rivers does not distinguish between live (cells with intact chloroplasts) and dead (empty cells) individuals, even though most diatom samples collected from the field will be composed of a mixture of both. This study aimed to evaluate whether percentage of live diatoms (PLD), live diatom density and chlorophyll a, and diatom species compositions can be used as indicators of hydrologic disturbance in an urban stream. We deployed artificial substrates on a monthly basis and collected periphyton samples weekly over the course of one calendar year (n = 182) in three tributaries of urbanized Ruddiman Creek (Michigan, USA). We also collected samples before and after six major storm events (>0.5 cm rain). We found no temporal patterns in PLD (Mann-Kendall test p > 0.05) or species composition (non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) ordination), which may be explained by a diatom composition already tolerant to frequent disturbance. There was no difference in PLD before and after storm events, which might partially be explained by their disturbance resistance due to different assemblage ages (1, 2, and 4 weeks old) before the storms. High flow had differential effects on diatom species; loosely attached Navicula and Nitzschia species were more easily removed compared to stalk-forming Gomphonema parvulum. The most important environmental variable that was found to affect live diatom density and chlorophyll was stream width, which has an indirect effect (as a measure of discharge) on periphyton assemblages. In conclusion, PLD was found to be unsuitable metric for assessing stormwater runoff in urban streams where periphyton may not have enough time to form mature communities.



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