, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 357-369

Laboratory sources of error for algal community attributes during sample preparation and counting

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Abstract

Applied algal studies typically require enumeration of preserved cells. As applications of algal assessments proliferate, understanding sources of variability inherent in the methods by which abundance and species composition data are obtained becomes even more important for precision of measurements. We performed replicate counts of diatoms on permanently fixed coverglasses and all algae in Palmer–Maloney chambers to assess precision and accuracy of measurements derived from common counting methods. We counted diatoms and all algae with transects and random fields. Variability estimates (precision) of diatom density, species diversity, and species composition on permanent coverglasses were low between replicate subsamples and between replicate transects. However, average density estimates of diatoms settled on coverglasses determined with transect methods were 42–52% greater than density estimates made with random fields. This bias was due to a predictable, nonrandom distribution of diatoms on the coverglass with few diatoms near edges. Despite bias in density when counting diatoms along coverglass transects, no bias was observed in estimates of species composition. Estimates of density and taxa richness of all-algae in Palmer–Maloney chambers also had low variability among multiple transects and high similarity in species composition between transects. In addition, counting method in Palmer–Maloney chambers did not affect estimates of algal cell density, taxa richness, and species composition, which suggested that counting units were distributed randomly in the chambers. Thus, most sources of variability in sample preparation and analysis are small; however, transect counts should not be used to estimate cell density, and sufficient numbers of random fields must be counted to account for edge effects on cell distribution with material settled on permanently fixed coverglasses.