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Diatoms the Organism, Diatoms the Tool: Considerations in Assessing Environmental Impact

Sarah A. Spaulding 1, Karl A. Hermann 2

1 U.S. Geological Survey, National Wetlands Research Center, Lafayette LA
2 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8, Denver CO

Attributes of the diatoms (Bacillariophyta) have led to their well-established role as environmental indicators. The utility of diatoms is supported by the number of successful applications to environmental problems, however, understanding of basic diatom life history, biology, and ecological requirements are often lacking. Moreover, the taxonomic keys that are in widespread use reflect a strong northern European influence. There is evidence that the North American continent does, in fact, have a unique flora but the use of European keys masks the actual species composition. National efforts within the EPA EMAP and USGS NAWQA programs to present an opportunity to not only confirm a North American diatom flora, but to refine the metrics that are currently available for constructing indexes of biological integrity.

In this presentation, we will discuss some of the implications of recent taxonomic changes on assessment efforts. We will also report on the extent to which endemism of diatom species is estimated to occur in North American regions, specifically directed toward REMAP projects in the southern Rocky Mountains and eastern Montana plains. Diatoms make robust tools, but there is room to improve the utility of diatoms in assessment efforts.

Keywords: periphyton, diatoms, Southern Rockies REMAP, Montana REMAP, index of biological integrity

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