Diatom Assemblages and their Associations with Environmental Variables in Oregon Coast Range Streams, USA

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The Oregon Coast Range, rich in natural resources, is under increasing pressure from rapid development. The purpose of this study was to examine diatom species patterns in relation to environmental variables in streams of this region. Diatoms, water quality, physical habitat and watershed characteristics were assessed for 33 randomly selected stream sites. Watershed size, elevation, geology, vegetation and stream morphology varied substantially among sites. Streams were characterized by dilute water chemistry and a low percent of fine substrate. A total of 80 diatom taxa were identified. Taxa richness was low throughout the region (median 15, range 10-26). Assemblages were dominated by two adnate species, Achnanthidium minutissimum and Achnanthes pyrenaicum. Diatoms sensitive to organic pollution dominated the assemblages at all sites (median 85%). Non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) and correlational analysis showed quantitative relationships between diatom assemblages and environmental variables. NMDS axes were significantly correlated with watershed area, watershed geology, conductivity, total nitrogen, total solids and stream width. Diatom-based site classification (Two-way Indicators Species Analysis, (TWINSPAN)) yielded 4 discrete groups that displayed weak correlations with environmental variables. When stream sites were classified by dominant watershed geology, overall diatom assemblages between groups were significantly different (Analysis of Similarity (ANOSIM) global R = 0.19, p < 0.05). Our results suggest that streams in the coastal region are in relatively good condition. High natural variability in stream conditions in the Oregon Coast Range ecoregion may obscure quantitative relationships between environmental variables and diatom assemblages. A bioassessment protocol that classifies sites by major landscape variables and selects streams along the major human disturbance gradient might allow for detection of early signs of human disturbance in environmentally heterogeneous regions, such as the Pacific Northwest.

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