, Volume 178, Issue 3, pp 209-223

Inferring pH from diatoms: a comparison of old and new calibration methods

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Abstract

Two new methods for inferring pH from diatoms are presented. Both are based on the observation that the relationships between diatom taxa and pH are often unimodal. The first method is maximum likelihood calibration based on Gaussian logit response curves of taxa against pH. The second is weighted averaging. In a lake with a particular pH, taxa with an optimum close to the lake pH will be most abundant, so an intuitively reasonable estimate of the lake pH is to take a weighted average of the pH optima of the species present.

Optima and tolerances of diatom taxa were estimated from contemporary pH and proportional diatom counts in littoral zone samples from 97 pristine soft water lakes and pools in Western Europe. The optima showed a strong relation with Hustedt's pH preference groups. The two new methods were then compared with existing calibration methods on the basis of differences between inferred and observed pH in a test set of 62 additional samples taken between 1918 and 1983. The methods were ranked in order of performance as follows (between brackets the standard error of inferred pH in pH units); maximum likelihood (0.63) > weighted averaging (0.71) = multiple regression using pH groups (0.71) = the Gasse & Tekaia method (0.71) > Renberg & Hellberg's Index B (0.83) » multiple regression using taxa (2.2). The standard errors are larger than those usually obtained from surface sediment samples. The relatively large standard may be due to seasonal variation and to the effects of other factors such as humus content. The maximum likelihood method is statistically rigorous and can in principle be extended to allow for additional environmental factors. It is computer intensive however. The weighted averaging approach is a good approximation to the maximum likelihood method and is recommended as a practical and robust alternative.