Diatom assemblages are excellent indicators for environmental monitoring. However, enumerating diatoms using fine-level taxonomy takes considerable effort, which must be undertaken by specialist taxonomists. One alternative is to enumerate assemblages using morphological traits. In this study, we compared the accuracy of models using 20 morphological traits with those using species assemblages to infer lake water pH, salinity, depth, and total phosphorus concentrations in four data sets, each comprising over 200 lakes. Assemblages aggregated by trait combinations were used to predict environmental variables via weighted averaging regressions, and richness of trait combinations was regressed against the environmental variables. Trait-based weighted averaging regressions showed slightly lower accuracy than species-level analyses and higher accuracy than analyses at the family and sometimes genus level. Richness of trait combinations showed relationships with pH, salinity, and lake depth that were marginally stronger than relationships using species richness. Although species-level analyses are the best approach when time and budgets allow, we suggest that trait combinations could provide an alternative method for water quality assessment programs, where funds do not allow the use of specialist taxonomists or where diatoms are being used as part of a multi-indicator analysis.

Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
Department of Biology

Cormier, E.C. (Emily C.), Sisson, D.R. (Danielle R.), Rühland, K.M. (Kathleen M.), Smol, J.P. (John P.), & Bennett, J.R. (2020). A morphological trait-based approach to environmental assessment models using diatoms. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, 77(1), 108–112. doi:10.1139/cjfas-2018-0376