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Benthic diatoms in a Mediterranean delta: ecological indicators and a conductivity transfer function for paleoenvironmental studies

Abstract

The contemporary distribution of benthic diatoms and their use as ecological indicators were examined in a coastal wetland, the Ebro Delta, as a representative of environmental conditions in Mediterranean coastal wetlands. A total of 424 diatom taxa were identified across 24 sites encompassing a wide range of wetland habitat types (coastal lagoons, salt and brackish marshes, shallow bays, microbial mats and nearshore marine waters) and conductivities. Canonical correspondence analysis showed that water conductivity and water depth were the main factors structuring the diatom assemblages. Cluster analysis identified five habitat types according to the similarity in diatom species composition: salt marshes, brackish marshes, brackish coastal lagoons and bays, coastal lagoons with fresher conditions, and nearshore open sea. For each wetland habitat, diatom indicator species were identified. Partial canonical correspondence analysis showed that water conductivity, a proxy for salinity, was the most statistically significant and independent variable for explaining the distribution of benthic diatoms in the study area. A transfer function, using a weighted average regression model, was developed for conductivity and displayed reasonable performance (r 2 = 0.64; RMSEP = 0.302 log10 mS/cm). Our study in the Ebro Delta provides a basis for using diatom assemblages to make quantitative conductivity inferences, and for using diatom indicator species to identify wetland habitats. These approaches are complementary and may be valuable for paleoenvironmental studies of (1) effects of large-scale, natural changes in the Delta (e.g. sea-level fluctuations), and (2) impacts of short-term anthropogenic changes, such as the introduction and development of rice agriculture.

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Acknowledgments

This research was supported by an IRTA-URV-Santander fellowship to Xavier Benito Granell through “BRDI Trainee Research Personnel Programme funded by University of Rovira and Virgili R+D+I projects.” The work described in this publication was also supported by the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme through a Grant to the budget of the Collaborative Project RISES-AM, Contract FP7-ENV-2013-two-stage-603396. The authors thank IRTA technicians Lluís Jornet and David Mateu for field support, Prof. Andrzej Witkowski (University of Szczecin) for help with diatom taxonomic identification and Dr. David G. Mann (Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and IRTA) for his very constructive comments and for English revision. We are also grateful for the valuable advice made by two anonymous reviewers and the Associate Editor (Prof. S. Metcalfe) in improving an initial version of this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Xavier Benito.

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Benito, X., Trobajo, R. & Ibáñez, C. Benthic diatoms in a Mediterranean delta: ecological indicators and a conductivity transfer function for paleoenvironmental studies. J Paleolimnol 54, 171–188 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10933-015-9845-3

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Keywords

  • Coastal wetlands
  • Diatoms
  • Ebro Delta
  • Habitats
  • Indicator species
  • Paleoecology