Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 39, Issue 1, pp 71–82 | Cite as

A diatom-based Holocene record of human impact from a coastal environment: Tuckean Swamp, eastern Australia

  • Kathryn H. Taffs
  • Luc J. Farago
  • Hendrik Heijnis
  • Geraldine Jacobsen
Original Paper


Diatom-based paleolimnological studies are being increasingly used to track anthropogenic change in estuaries. Little is known, however, about the direction and nature of long-term environmental changes in Australian estuaries. In this study, shifts in diatom assemblages preserved in a 210Pb and C14 AMS dated sediment core from Tuckean Swamp were analysed to determine environmental changes that had taken place as a result of changing land-use practices. Prior to European impact, the diatom assemblage remained relatively stable and was dominated by Actinocyclus normanii and Diploneis smithii. An increasing dominance of Cyclotella meneghiniana correlates well with changed land use activities in the catchment area and indicates an increase of freshwater influence in the swamp’s environment. A major shift in species composition began ∼1970, Eunotia flexuosa becoming dominant. The assemblage shifts recorded at this site appear to be consistent with environmental changes triggered by human activities such as vegetation clearance, drainage and the construction of a barrage. This study demonstrates the use of paleolimnoology in an estuarine environment to provide pre-impact data necessary for management of the aquatic environment.


Estuary Palaeolimnology Diatoms Australia Human impact Acidification 



We would like to thank Jeff Parr, Maria Cotter, Stephen Cotter and Melanie Robinson for providing assistance with field-work. Australian Institute for Nuclear Science and Engineering for Awards to assist with 210Pb and radiocarbon dating at ANSTO (AINSE grants Nos. 00/147 and 03/111 respectively). This project was supported by a Southern Cross University internal research grant. Thank you to the reviewers of this manuscript.


  1. Agatz M, Asmus RM, Deventer B (1999) Structural changes in the benthic diatom community along a eutrophication gradient on a tidal flat. Helgol Mar Res 53:92–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andren E (1999) Changes in the composition of the diatom flora during the last century indicate increased eutrophication of the Oder estuary, south-western Baltic Sea. Estuar Coast Shelf Sci 48:665–676CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Augustinuas P, Reid M, Andersson S, Deng Y, Horrocks M (2006) Biological and geochemical record of anthropogenic impacts in recent sediments from lake Pupuke, Auckland City, New Zealand. J Paleolimnol 35:789–805CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baldwin J (1996) Draft land and water management plan for Tuckean Swamp. Richmond River County Council, NSWGoogle Scholar
  5. Battarbee RW, Charles DF, Dixet SS, Renberg I (1999) Diatoms as indicators of surface water acidity. In: Stoermer EF, Smol JPS (eds) The diatoms: applications for the environmental and earth sciences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 85–127Google Scholar
  6. Bax N, Burford M, Clementson L, Davenport S (2001) Phytoplankton blooms and production sources on the south-east Australian continental shelf. Mar Freshw Res 52:451–462CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bengsston L, Enell M (1986) Chemical analysis. In: Berglund BE (ed) Handbook of Holocene paleoecology and paleohydrology. Blackburn Press, New Jersey, pp 423–454Google Scholar
  8. Billen G, Garnier J, Ficht A, Cun C (2001) Modeling the response of water quality in the Seine river estuary to human activity in its watershed over the last 50 years. Estuaries 24:977–993CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Brugam RB (1978) Pollen indicators of land use change in southern Connecticut. Quat Res 9:349–362CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Byrne R, Ingram B, Starratt S, Malamud-Roam F (2001) Carbon-isotope, diatom, and pollen evidence for Late Holocene salinity change in a brackish marsh in the San Francisco Estuary. Quat Res 55:66–76CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cameron NG, Tyler PA, Rose NL, Hutchinson S, Appleby PG (1993) The recent paleolimnology of Lake Nicholls, Mount Field National Park, Tasmania. Hydrobiologia 369:361–370CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Campeau S, Pienitz R, Hequette A (1999) Diatoms as quantitative paleodepth indicators in coastal areas of the southeastern Beaufort Sea, Arctic Ocean. Paleogeog Paleoclim Paleoecol 146:67–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Cearrata A, Cachao M, Cabral MC, Bao R, Ramalho MD (2003) Lateglacial and Holocene environmental changes in Portugese coastal lagoons 2: microfossil multiproxy reconstruction of the Santo Andre coastal area. Holocene 13:447–458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Cooper S, McGlothlin S, Madritch M, Jones D (2004) Paleoecological evidence of human impacts on the Neuse and Pamlico Estuaries of North Carolina, USA. Estuaries 27:617–633Google Scholar
  15. Dodson JR, Ramrath A (2001) An Upper Pleistocene lacustrine environmental record from south-western Australia—preliminary results. Palaeogeog Palaeoclim Palaeoecol 167:309–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Edwards S, McKirdy DM, Bone Y, Gell PA, Gostin VA (2006) Diatoms and ostracods as mid Holocene palaeoenvironmental indicators, North Stomatolite Lake, Coorong National park, South Australia. Aust J Earth Sci 53:651–663CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Enache M, Prairie Y (2002) WA-PLS diatom-based pH, TP and DOC inference models from 42 lakes in the Abitibi clay belt area (Quebec, Canada). J Paleolimnol 27:151–171CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Eyre B (1997) Water quality changes in an episodically flushed sub-tropical Australian estuary: a 50 year perspective. Mar Chem 59:177–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fallu MA, Allaire N, Pienitz R (2002) Distribution of freshwater diatoms in 64 Labrador (Canada) lakes: species-environment relationships along latitudinal gradients and reconstruction models for water colour and alkalinity. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 59:329–349CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Foged N (1978) Diatoms in Eastern Australia. Bibliotheca Phycologica 47:1–242Google Scholar
  21. Gell PA, Sonneman JA, Reid MA, Illman MA and Sincock AJ (1999) An illustrated key to the common diatom genera from southern Australia. Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology, Identification Guide No. 26Google Scholar
  22. Gowen R, Mills D, Trimmer M, Nedwell D (2000) Production and its fate in two coastal regions of the Irish Sea: the influence of anthropogenic nutrients. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 208:51–64CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Grim EC (1987) CONISS: a FORTRAN 77 program for stratigraphically constrained cluster analysis by the method of incremental sum of squares. Comp Geosci 13:13–35CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Harrison J, Heijnis H, Caprarelli G (2002) Historical pollution variability from abandoned mine sites, greater blue mountains world heritage area, New South Wales, Australia. Environ Geol 43:680–687Google Scholar
  25. Heiri O, Lotter AF, Lemcke G (2001) Loss on ignition as a method for the estimating organic and carbonate content in sediments: reproducibility and comparability of results. J Paleolimn 25:101–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Heron R (1996) Brief for an Aboriginal Heritage study of Tuckean Swamp. Richmond River County Council, Land and Water Management Plan for Tuckean Swamp, Technical Appendices, Report 5 of 7Google Scholar
  27. Holmes R, Peterson B, Deegan L, Hughes J, Fry B (2000) Nitrogen biogeochemistry in the oligohaline zone of a new England estuary. Ecology 81:416–432CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Juggins S (1992) Diatoms in the Thames Estuary, England: ecology, palaeoecology and salinity transfer function. J. Crammer, Berlin, 216ppGoogle Scholar
  29. Juggins S (2004) C2 data analysis. Version 1.4 beta (build 3.2). University of Newcastle, UKGoogle Scholar
  30. Keller W (2002) Introduction and overview to aquatic acidification studies in the Sudbury, Ontario, Canada area. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 49:3–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Krammer K, Lange-Bertelot H (1986) Susswasserflora von Mitteleuropa. Bacillariophyceae i Teil: Bacillariaceae, Epithemiacaeae, Surrirellaceae. Gustav Fischer Verlag, StuttgartGoogle Scholar
  32. Krammer K, Lange-Bertelot H (1988) Susswasserflora von Mitteleuropa. Bacillariophyceae ii Teil: Bacillariaceae, Epithemiacaeae, Surrirellaceae. Gustav Fischer Verlag, StuttgartGoogle Scholar
  33. Krammer K, Lange-Bertelot H (1991a) Susswasserflora von Mitteleuropa. Bacillariophyceae iii Teil: Centrales. Fragilariaceae, Eunotiaceae. Gustav Fischer Verlag, StuttgartGoogle Scholar
  34. Krammer K, Lange-Bertelot H (1991b) Susswasserflora von Mitteleuropa. Bacillariophyceae iv Teil: Achnanthaceae. Gustav Fischer Verlag, StuttgartGoogle Scholar
  35. Li LY, Gallagher S, Finlayson B (2000) Foraminiferal response to Holocene environmental changes of a tidal estuary in Victoria, southeastern Australia. Mar Micropaleont 38:229–246CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. National Research Council (2000) Clean coastal waters: understanding and reducing the effects of nutrient pollution. National Academy Press, Washington, DC, USA, 405 ppGoogle Scholar
  37. New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Servive (2001) Management Plan for Tuckean Swamp Nature Reserve. Alstonville, NSWGoogle Scholar
  38. Ng S, Sin F (2003) A diatom model for inferring sea level change in the coastal waters of Hong Kong. J Paleolimn 30:427–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Orendt C (1998) Macroinvertebrates and diatoms as indicators of acidification in forest spring brooks in a region of eastern Germany (Leipzing_Halle_bitterfeld) highly impacted by industrial activities. Arch Hydrobiol 143:435–467Google Scholar
  40. Parr JF, Taffs KH, Lane CM (2004) A microwave digestion technique for the extraction of fossil diatoms from coastal lake and swamp sediments. J Paleolimnol 31:383–390CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Parsons ML, Dortch Q, Turner RE, Rabalais NN (1999) Salinity history of coastal marshes reconstructed from diatom remains. Estuaries 22:1078–1089CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Plater A, Horton B, Haworth E, Appleby P, Yong Y, Wright M, Rutherford M (2000) Holocene tidal levels and sedimentation rates using a diatom-based palaeoenvironmental reconstruction: the Tees Estuary, northeastern England. Holocene 10:441–452CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Prebble M, Sim R, Finn J, Fink D (2005) A Holocene pollen and diatom record from Vanderlin Island, Gulf of Carpentaria, low land tropical Australia. Quat Res 64:357–371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Racca JMJ, Philibert A, Racca R, Prairie YT (2001) A comparison between diatom-based pH inference models using artificial neural networks (ANNO) weighted averaging (WA) and weighted averaging partial least squares (WA-PLS) regressions. J Paleolimnol 26:411–422CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Reid M (2005) Diatom-based models for reconstructing past water quality and productivity in New Zealand lakes. J Paleolimnol 33:13–38CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Robbins JA, Edgington DN (1975) Determination of recent sedimentation rates in Lake Michigan using Pb-210 and Cs-137. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 39:285–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rosen P, Hall R, Korsman T, Renberg I (2000) Diatom transfer functions for quantifying past air temperature, pH and total organic carbon concentrations from lakes in northern Sweden. J Paleolimnol 24:109–123CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Sammut J (2000) An introduction to acid sulphate soils. Department of Sport and Territories, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  49. Sammut J, White I, Melville M (1996) Acidification of an estuarine tributary in eastern Australia due to drainage of acid sulphate soils. Mar Freshw Res 47:669–684CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Siver PA (1999) Development of paleolimnological inference models for pH, total nitrogen and specific conductivity based on planktonic diatoms. J Paleolimnol 21:45–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Slate JE, Stevenson RJ (2000) Recent and abrupt environmental change in the Florida Everglades indicated from siliceous microfossils. Wetlands 20:346–356CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Smith E, Baldwin J (1997) A landuse history of Tuckean Swamp. Tuckean Swamp study, Technical Report #6. Richmond River County Council, LismoreGoogle Scholar
  53. Smol JP (2002) Pollution of Lakes and Rivers: A Paleoenvironmental Perspective. Arnold, LondonGoogle Scholar
  54. Sonneman JA, Sincock A, Fluin J, Reid M, Newall P, Tibby J, Gell P (2000) An illustrated guide to common stream diatom species from temperate Australia. Cooperative Research Centre for Freshwater Ecology, Identification Guide No. 33Google Scholar
  55. Stoermer EF, Smol JPS (1999) The diatoms: applications for the environmental and earth sciences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 469ppGoogle Scholar
  56. Stuiver M, Reimer PJ (1993) Extended 14C database and revised CALIB radiocarbon calibration program. Radiocarbon 35:215–230Google Scholar
  57. Stuiver M, Reimer PJ, Bard E, Beck JW, Burr GS, Hughen KA, Kromer B, McCormac FG, Plicht J, Spurk M (1998) INTCAL98 radiocarbon age calibration 24,000-0 cal BP. Radiocarbon 40:1041–1083Google Scholar
  58. Sullivan MJ (1999) Applied diatom studies in estuaries and shallow coastal environments. In: Stoermer EF, Smol JPS (eds) The diatoms: applications for the environmental and earth sciences. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 334–351Google Scholar
  59. Sullivan L, Bush R (2004) Iron precipitate accumulations associated with waterways in drained coastal acid sulfate landscapes of eastern Australia. Mar Freshw Res 55:727–736CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. ter Braak CJF, Smilauer P (1998) CANOCO reference manual and user guide to CANOCO windows software for canonical community ordination (versions 4). Microcomputer Power, Ithaca, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  61. ter Braak C, Van Dam H (1989) Inferring pH from diatoms: a comparison of old and new calibration methods. Hydrobiologia 178:209–223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tibby J, Reid MA, Fluin J, Hart B, Kershaw AB (2003) Assessing long term pH change in an Australian river catchment using monitoring and paleolimnological data. Environ Sci Technol 37:3250–3255CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. United Nations (2006) United Nations Atlas of the Oceans. [Accessed 25 June 2006]
  64. Vilanova I, Prieto AR, Epinosa M (2006) Paleoenvironmental evolution and sea level fluctuations along the southeastern Pampa grasslands coast of Argentina during the Holocene. J Quat Sci 21(3):227–242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Vos PC, de Wolf H (1993) Diatoms as a tool for reconstructing sedimentary environments in coastal wetlands: methodological aspects. Hydrobiologia 269/270:285–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Weckström K (2006) Assessing recent eutrophication in coastal waters of the Gulf of Finland (Baltic Sea) using subfossil diatoms. J Paleolimnol 35:571–592CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Wilmshurst JM, McGlone MS (2005) Corroded pollen and spores as indicators of changing lake sediment sources and catchmnet disturbance. J Paleolimnol 34:503–517CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Witkowski A, Lange-Bertalot H, Metzeltin D (2000) Diatom flora of marine coasts I. Iconographia Diatomologica. In: Lange-Bertalot H (ed) Annotated diatom micrographs, vol 7. Koeltz Scientific Books, Germany, pp 1–925Google Scholar
  69. Woelfi S, Whitton BA (2000) Sampling preservation and quantification of biological samples from highly acidic environments (pH < 3). Hydrobiologia 433:173–180CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Woodward CA, Shulmeister J (2005) A Holocene record of humaninduces and natural environmental change from Lake Forsyth (Te Wairewa), New Zealand. J Paleolimnol 34:481–501CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Young A (2000) Environmental change in Australia since 1788. Oxford University Press, MelbourneGoogle Scholar
  72. Zann L (1995) Our sea, our future. Major findings of the State of the Marine environment report for Australia. Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, CanberraGoogle Scholar
  73. Zimmerman A, Canuel EA (2000) A geochemical record of eutrophication and anoxia in Chesapeake Bay sediments: anthropogenic influence on organic matter composition. Mar Chem 69:117–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Zong Y, Lloyd JM, Leng MJ, Yim WWS, Huang G (2006) Reconstruction of Holocene monsoon history from Pearl River Estuary, southern China using diatoms and carbon isotope ratios. Holocene 16:251–263CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kathryn H. Taffs
    • 1
  • Luc J. Farago
    • 1
  • Hendrik Heijnis
    • 2
  • Geraldine Jacobsen
    • 3
  1. 1.Centre for Geoarchaeological and Palaeoenvironmental ResearchSouthern Cross UniversityLismoreAustralia
  2. 2.Sydney Catchment AuthorityPenrithAustralia
  3. 3.Australian Nuclear Science and Technology OrganisationMenaiAustralia

Personalised recommendations