, Volume 705, Issue 1, pp 147–158 | Cite as

Diatom community response to an acid mine drainage gradient

  • Kate A. SchoweEmail author
  • Jon S. Harding
  • Paul A. Broady
Primary Research Paper


Acid mine drainage (AMD) is a significant environmental issue worldwide. On the West Coast of the South Island, New Zealand, many AMD-affected streams occur within close proximity to naturally acidic streams, enabling us to compare the response of communities in naturally and anthropogenic acidified systems. We investigated epiphytic diatom communities in 39 streams along an AMD gradient that included naturally acidic and circum-neutral reference streams. There was a wide range in taxonomic richness in reference streams and those moderately impacted by AMD (8–33 taxa). Taxonomic richness was greatly reduced in severely impacted streams (1–5 taxa) at a threshold of pH 3.4 and was dominated by Pinnularia cf. acidophila (69–100% relative abundance). Community composition differed between circum-neutral reference streams and moderately and severely impacted streams. However, naturally acidic and moderately impacted streams had similar diatom communities primarily composed of Eunotia and Frustulia species. Our results indicate that diatom communities are strongly structured by pH and able to tolerate moderate conductivity and metal concentrations. This is a challenge for researchers and water managers attempting to incorporate diatoms into AMD monitoring in regions with naturally acidic streams.


Acid mine drainage (AMD) Diatoms Natural acidity Periphyton pH New Zealand 



We thank Joe Good for help in the field, Elena Moltchanova for statistics advice, and Kristy Hogsden and Hamish Greig for reviewing earlier versions of this manuscript. This research was supported by MSI Developing Pathways to Mineral Wealth and Environmental Sustainability (CRLX0401).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Kate A. Schowe
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jon S. Harding
    • 1
  • Paul A. Broady
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of CanterburyChristchurchNew Zealand

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