The use of epilithic diatoms grown on artificial substrata to indicate water quality changes in the lower reaches of the St Lucia Estuary, South Africa

  • Monique Nunes
  • Janine B. Adams
  • Guy C. Bate
Keywords: phytoplankton, microphytobenthos, epilithic, biomass, diversity, monitoring


In shallow estuaries, artificial substrates provide a means of assessing the response of the diatom community to water chemistry. The shallow St Lucia Estuary was historically connected to the Mfolozi River at the mouth. This connection was severed during the early 1950s due to sediment input from the agriculturally impacted Mfolozi River. A connection has recently been re-established and the potential impact of dissolved inorganic nutrients from the Mfolozi River needs to be determined, as it may alter the ecological integrity of the St Lucia Estuary which forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This study found that the epilithic algal biomass and diatom species composition grown on glass slides were good indicators of nutrient enrichment in the estuary. Over a 28-day study period an above-average rainfall event resulted in an increase of nutrient-enriched freshwater flow into the estuary. No significant biomass differences were recorded in either the natural phytoplankton or microphytobenthos communities because of high variability. By contrast, the epilithic algal biomass accumulation on the glass slides was highest following the freshwater input. Statistical analyses indicated that the accumulation of the epilithic community on the glass slides was mostly affected by DIN and salinity. Diversity index scores for both the natural phytoplankton and microphytobenthos were variable, while the epilithic diatom index scores consistently declined from Day 7 (H’ = 1.2) to Day 28 (H’ = 0.7). These data indicate that epilithic algae grown on glass slides can be used as an effective monitoring tool to detect nutrient-induced changes as a supplementary method in this highly variable estuary.

Keywords: phytoplankton, microphytobenthos, epilithic, biomass, diversity, monitoring


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0378-4738