African Journal of Aquatic Science

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Diatoms as water quality indicators in the upper reaches of the Great Fish River, Eastern Cape, South Africa

M Holmes, J C Taylor


This study focused on the spring-fed upper reaches of the economically important Great Fish River with the aim of determining if diatoms could be used for biomonitoring in semi-arid conditions in southern Africa. Five sites were monitored monthly from 2010 to 2012. Of the 269 diatom taxa belonging to 51 genera identified, the dominant taxa were mostly those considered to be pollution-tolerant: Amphora pediculus, Craticula buderi, Fragilaria bicepsNitzschia frustulum, Nitzschia paleacea, Planothidium lanceolatum and Rhopalodia gibba. A number of diatombased numerical indices were used to infer water quality, including the generic diatom index, the specific pollution sensitivity index, the biological diatom index, and percentage pollution-tolerant valves, which forms part of the UK trophic diatom index. All index scores showed the Great Fish River to be impacted, and showed significant correlations of diatom species abundance with pH, NO3-N, electrical conductivity, NH4-N and CaCO3. Analysis revealed EC and NO3-N as the main environmental drivers affecting diatom commnity composition, followed by pH and PO4-P. The percentage of diatom deformities at all sites was high, at 3.5%. Diatom indices showed the river to be impacted by decades of agricultural activity, which was confirmed by chemical water analysis. Thus diatom indices can be used for biomonitoring in semi-arid areas.

Keywords: agricultural impacts, aquatic ecosystem, biomonitoring, deformed valves, epilithic diatoms, freshwater, Karoo
AJOL African Journals Online