Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 46, Issue 4, pp 543–560 | Cite as

Diatom and foraminifera relationships to water quality in The Coorong, South Australia, and the development of a diatom-based salinity transfer function

  • D. Haynes
  • R. Skinner
  • J. Tibby
  • J. Cann
  • J. Fluin
Original paper


The Ramsar-listed Coorong lagoon lies at the terminus of the Murray-Darling River system in South Australia. Diatom and foraminifera relationships with water quality were characterised in order to develop diatom- and foraminifera-based models with the potential to infer water column salinity. Seventy-four samples were collected during 2007, a year of continuing drought in the catchment, and of no discharges at the Murray Mouth. The sample sites had a salinity gradient of 1.8–190 g l−1 total dissolved solids. The diatom data set comprised 215 taxa, while there were only eight taxa in the foraminiferal data set. Canonical correspondence analysis of diatom species-environment relationships showed that salinity explained the largest proportion of diatom variance. Hence, a diatom-based salinity transfer function with reasonable predictive power (measured vs. diatom-inferred salinity r jack 2  = 0.82; Root Mean Squared Error of Prediction = 16 g l−1) was developed. Application of the transfer function to fossil diatom assemblages from The Coorong suggested that pre-European salinity values were generally >50 g l−1 and that salinity declined following settlement. These results, however, contradict the recent history of The Coorong where there have been substantial lagoon-wide salinity increases. The pre-impact diatom flora has no analogue in the modern data set, highlighting the degree of departure from past conditions. CCA of the foraminiferal data set identified salinity and total nitrogen as the variables with the greatest explanatory power. However, accurate predictive models could not be developed using either variable due to low foraminiferal abundance and species richness. These factors may have been a consequence of diminished foraminiferal recruitment rates over successive years, an artefact of reduced marine water input to The Coorong. Future attempts to generate predictive models from this region would benefit from the inclusion of data from distant locations, since suitable analogue sites do not exist in close proximity. The study has generated useful insights to the apparently broad salinity tolerances for several cosmopolitan diatom and foraminifera species, and has identified a number of diatom and foraminifera taxa that may prove useful in the qualitative interpretation of down-core trends in The Coorong and the lower Murray River region.


Estuary Diatoms Foraminifera Staurosirella pinnata Transfer function Salinity 



This paper is a synthesis of the work undertaken by the two lead authors for their respective PhD projects. The project was supported by financial and in kind contributions from the Department of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation and the Department for Environment and Heritage (South Australia), and an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant LP0667819 to Peter Gell, David McKirdy and John Tibby. We thank traditional owners, the Ngarrindjeri, for permission to undertake the work. The assistance of SA Water in accessing some sites is appreciated. Peter Christie from the Environment Protection Authority generously loaned the YSI 556 Multiprobe water meter for field use. Field assistance was provided by Susan and Kathleen Haynes, Fiona Little, Patrick Maiden, Ashley Natt, Eric Nicholson, Hossain Siddiqui, Jake and Anne Skinner. Thanks to Ted Thurley, Geoff and Jake Skinner for manufacturing the vacuum corer used in this project (the Snikker), and to Eric Nicholson for assistance in its design. Special thanks are also due to the reviewers whose extensive suggestions resulted in substantial improvement to the final manuscript.

Supplementary material

10933_2011_9508_MOESM1_ESM.doc (350 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 350 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. Haynes
    • 1
  • R. Skinner
    • 1
  • J. Tibby
    • 2
  • J. Cann
    • 3
  • J. Fluin
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Earth and Environmental SciencesUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  2. 2.Geography, Environment and PopulationUniversity of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia
  3. 3.School of Natural and Built EnvironmentsUniversity of South AustraliaAdelaideAustralia

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