Diatoms as Tools for Inferring Changing Environmental Gradients in Coastal, Freshwater Wetlands Threatened by Saltwater Intrusion

Viviana Mazzei, Florida International University


Saltwater intrusion alters the natural salinity and phosphorus (P) gradients in the oligotrophic, freshwater wetlands located near coastlines of the Caribbean Basin with important consequences to the structure and function of key ecosystem components, including plants, soil microbes, and periphyton. Periphyton communities, particularly diatoms, are extremely sensitive to water quality changes and can serve as excellent bioindicators; however, little is known about their use in detecting novel rates of saltwater intrusion into coastal, freshwater wetlands. I examined the individual and combined effects of elevated salinity and P on periphyton functional processes and diatom composition by conducting transect surveys along salinity and P gradients in the southern Everglades, as well as through mesocosm studies in which salinity and P were experimental manipulated. I demonstrated that conductivity (a proxy for salinity) and P gradients drive spatial patterns in diatom assemblage structure in the southern Everglades and that these assemblages have relatively low conductivity (2 mS cm-1) and total P thresholds (82 µg g-1). These findings were supported by the experimental work which showed that monthly pulses of elevated salinity only ~1 ppt above ambient was sufficient to cause significant shifts in periphytic diatom assemblages along with reduced periphyton productivity, total carbon, and nutrient content. The addition of P to freshwater and salt-treated periphyton significantly elevated mat total P, underscoring the P-uptake efficiency of periphyton. Surprisingly, addition of P to freshwater periphyton did not elicit significant functional or compositional responses, although chlorophyll-aconcentrations and accumulation rates tended to be higher with P. Similar chlorophyll-atrends were observed for salt-treated mats with added P, but these mats also exhibited significantly higher gross primary productivity and net ecosystem productivity compared to all other treatments and a diatom assemblage distinct from any other treatment. This research provides new and valuable information regarding periphyton dynamics in response to changing water sources that will allow us to extend the use of periphyton, and their diatom assemblages, as tools for environmental assessments related to saltwater intrusion in the southern Everglades and other karstic, freshwater wetlands.

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Recommended Citation

Mazzei, Viviana, "Diatoms as Tools for Inferring Changing Environmental Gradients in Coastal, Freshwater Wetlands Threatened by Saltwater Intrusion" (2018). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI10976833.