Use of marker pigments and functional groups for assessing the status of phytoplankton assemblages in lakes

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Abstract

Phytoplankton is a key biological quality element for the establishment of the Water Framework Directive (WFD) ecological status in reservoirs and lakes. In freshwaters, inverted microscope examination is the traditional standard method for estimating phytoplankton and assessing taxonomic composition. Based on the enumeration of algal units and measurements for biovolume calculation, this technique is cumbersome and time-consuming. In large monitoring programmes, such as the application of the WFD in lakes and reservoirs, chemotaxonomy (HPLC pigment analysis and CHEMTAX treatment) is ideally suited as an alternative method because it allows the rapid processing of large numbers of samples from numerous locations and depths, thereby providing ideal temporal and spatial resolution. The low taxonomical detail obtained by HPLC and CHEMTAX (phytoplankton classes or phyla) can easily be overcome by a rapid inverted microscope screening with identification of the dominant species. Combining HPLC and microscopy provides a useful method for monitoring phytoplankton assemblages, which can be used to implement the WFD with respect to phytoplankton. Here, we present the application of a method combining marker pigments and microscopy to phytoplankton samples from 12 Belgian reservoirs. This method substantially reduced the workload and enabled us to assess the status of the phytoplankton assemblage in these lakes. The method complies with the WFD, as it takes into account taxonomic composition, assesses abundance and biomass of the phytoplankton taxa, and easily detects blooms. Additionally, a set of templates of probability of occurrence of phytoplankton functional groups at the maximal ecological potential for reservoirs from the Central/Baltic region is presented, based on reference conditions defined for natural lakes from other regions.

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