Developing and Testing Diatom Indicators for Wetlands in the Casco Bay Watershed, Maine, USA

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Abstract

Diatom indicators of wetland condition were developed and tested by assessing human disturbance, water chemistry, and species composition of benthic, epiphytic, and planktonic diatoms from 20 wetlands sampled for 2 years. One sample from each site was randomly selected to form a development data set, while the rest were used as the test data set. Human disturbance indicated substantial differences among wetlands in hydrologic modification, impervious surface, and potential for non-point source contamination. These landscape alterations were related to increases in pH, non-nutrient ions, and nutrients and decreases in dissolved organic carbon and water color. Pre-existing diatom indicators, calculated with autecological information from lakes and aquatic habitats, correlated highly to relevant water chemistry and human disturbance scores. Weighted average models (WAM) of Cl-, conductivity, pH, and alkalinity derived with the Maine development data set correlated to relevant water chemistry and human disturbance of the test wetlands. Diatom assemblage attributes that correlated with human disturbance were selected to combine into a multimetric index of biotic condition (IBC). IBCs and WAMs from benthic and epiphytic diatoms were usually more precisely related to relevant environmental factors than planktonic diatoms. These results showed that human disturbance alkalized wetlands, enriched them with nutrients, and diatom assemblages responded to these changes. Indicator development protocols for streams can be readily adapted for use in wetlands.

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