Monitoring of algae in Dutch rivers: does it meet its goals?

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Abstract

Observations on phytoplankton in the lower reaches of the rivers Rhine and Meuse were carried out in the framework of the national monitoring programme of the main water systems in The Netherlands. Seasonal changes in density and species composition were analysed to detect the major variables and to discuss whether this monitoring meets its goals. Phytoplankton reached peak densities of 140 and 65 μg L-1 Chl a in the Rhine and Meuse, respectively. Overall density was correlated with seasonal variation in water discharge rather than with nutrient concentrations, that are high in both rivers. The position of sampling sites in relation to the downstream development of the plankton was very important, especially in the regulated Meuse. Despite hydrographic and chemical differences between the two rivers, many species, predominantly diatoms and green algae, were shared. The occurrence of the diatom Skeletonema subsalsum in the Rhine and the green algae Neodesmus danubialis, Micractinium pusillum and Pseudotetrastrum punctatum in the Meuse (1992, but not 1996) was interpreted as a feature related, respectively, to the high salinity of the Rhine and specific riverine conditions of the Meuse. In general the potamoplankton was characterised as an opportunistic assemblage exploiting the high nutrient contents and disturbed hydrography of both rivers. Nevertheless, the phytoplankton contributed to the characterisation of the present river communities, ones that differ rather strongly in historic records. Although year to year variation in phytoplankton density is mainly related to variation in water discharge, phytoplankton biomass did increase as a result of eutrophication over a period of decades. The widespread nature of many of today's potamoplankton species in the two rivers render these organisms less useful for indicating short-term changes in water quality. However the importance of phytoplankton in trophic relationships merits its inclusion in the monitoring of riverine ecosystems.

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