Ecoregions and benthic diatom assemblages in Mid-Atlantic Highlands streams, USA

Y. Pan, R. J. Stevenson, B. H. Hill, A. T. Herlihy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations

Abstract

Ecoregional differences in geology and hydrology may affect physical and chemical conditions in streams and, consequently, the species composition of algal assemblages. Stresses resulting from human disturbance, however, may constrain species membership in algal assemblages and reduce regional diversity. We expected that ecoregional differences in diatom assemblages, if they were present, would be more evident in relatively undisturbed sites than in randomly selected sites. Benthic diatom and water chemistry samples were collected from streams in 7 ecoregions of the Mid-Atlantic Highlands to evaluate correspondence between ecoregional classification and diatom assemblages. Ecoregional differences were assessed using 196 randomly selected stream sites (probability sites) and 60 sites with less disturbance by humans (reference sites). Multivariate analyses showed that significant ecoregional differences in diatom assemblages were observed only in probability sites and not in reference sites. Water chemistry was significantly different among ecoregions, both for probability sites and for reference sites. Significant differences in diatom assemblages and water chemistry were, however, evident only among ecoregions grouped by topography (i.e., montane, high plateau, and low plateau/valley). Ecoregional differences between montane regions or low plateau/ valley regions were subtle. Stream sites grouped by catchments were also significantly different in water chemistry but not in diatom assemblages, both for probability sites and for reference sites. Our data suggest that diatom assemblages respond to land use, especially agricultural activities, and thus may correspond to the ecoregional classification when land use differs significantly among these ecoregions (e.g., montane vs valley ecoregions). Diatom assemblages that lack a region-specific feature may be ideal as unbiased indicators of stream water quality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)518-540
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of the North American Benthological Society
Volume19
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency through a cooperative agreement with Oregon State University (#CR821738) and the University of Louisville (#R824783). The manuscript has been subjected to the agency’s peer and administrative review and approved for publication. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement or recommendation for use. We thank Patti Grace-Jarrett and Kalina Man-oylova for counting diatoms, and Barb Rosen-baum for preparing the site map. The comments of Richard Norris, Chuck Hawkins, David Ro-senberg, and 2 anonymous reviewers greatly improved the quality of the manuscript.

Keywords

  • Benthic diatom
  • Catchment
  • Ecoregion
  • Index
  • Mid-Atlantic Highlands
  • Multivariate analysis
  • Probability sites
  • Reference sites

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