Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 37, Issue 4, pp 864–879 | Cite as

Distribution of Diatoms Along Environmental Gradients in the Charlotte Harbor, Florida (USA), Estuary and Its Watershed: Implications for Bioassessment of Salinity and Nutrient Concentrations

  • Emily R. Nodine
  • Evelyn E. Gaiser


The relative abundance of diatom species in different habitats can be used as a tool to infer prior environmental conditions and evaluate management decisions that influence habitat quality. Diatom distribution patterns were examined to characterize relationships between assemblage composition and environmental gradients in a subtropical estuarine watershed. We identified environmental correlates of diatom distribution patterns across the Charlotte Harbor, Florida, watershed; evaluated differences among three major river drainages; and determined how accurately local environmental conditions can be predicted using inference models based on diatom assemblages. Sampling locations ranged from freshwater to marine (0.1–37.2 ppt salinity) and spanned broad nutrient concentration gradients. Salinity was the predominant driver of difference among diatom assemblages across the watershed, but other environmental variables had stronger correlations with assemblages within the subregions of the three rivers and harbor. Eighteen indicator taxa were significantly affiliated with subregions. Relationships between diatom taxon distributions and salinity, distance from the harbor, total phosphorus (TP), and total nitrogen (TN) were evaluated to determine the utility of diatom assemblages to predict environmental values using a weighted averaging-regression approach. Diatom-based inferences of these variables were strong (salinity R 2 = 0.96; distance R 2 = 0.93; TN R 2 = 0.83; TP R 2 = 0.83). Diatom assemblages provide reliable estimates of environmental parameters on different spatial scales across the watershed. Because many coastal diatom taxa are ubiquitous, the diatom training sets provided here should enable diatom-based environmental reconstructions in subtropical estuaries that are being rapidly altered by land and water use changes and sea level rise.


Diatoms Spatial gradients Salinity Nutrients Bioassessment Charlotte Harbor 



Financial support for this study was provided by the Cristina Menendez Fellowship administered by the Southeast Environmental Research Center at Florida International University in conjunction with the Miccosukee Tribe. The research was developed in collaboration with the Florida Coastal Everglades Long-Term Ecological Research Program under National Science Foundation grants no. DBI-0620409 and DEB-1237517. This is contribution number 643 from the Southeast Environmental Research Center at Florida International University. We would like to thank Sylvia Lee, Franco Tobias, and Rafael Travieso for laboratory assistance and thoughtful comments on the manuscript, as well as volunteer field assistants Paul Nodine, Patricia Frankenberger, Mara Woosley, and Timothy Loyd. We would also like to thank Dr. Sherri Cooper and an anonymous reviewer for detailed and helpful comments on the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA
  2. 2.Southeast Environmental Research Center, Department of Biological SciencesFlorida International UniversityMiamiUSA

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