Changes in epilithic diatom assemblages in a Mediterranean high mountain lake (Laguna de La Caldera, Sierra Nevada, Spain) after a period of drought

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The epilithic diatom assemblages studied in the high mountain lake “La Caldera” (Granada, Spain) from 1996 to 1998 went through two clearly different stages. The initial one, in 1996, corresponded to the reflooding of the basin after a severe drought and was composed mainly of the colonising species Fragilaria rumpens, together with a lesser presence of Nitzschia sublinearis and Hantzschia amphioxys. The predominant presence of F. rumpens at the end of the summer of 2006 coincided with low species diversity (values of Shannon and Wiener Index: 0.3-0.6). During the following two years another assemblage established itself, dominated by Achnanthidium minutissimum, which is considered to be more stable and widespread among the lakes of the Sierra Nevada. The most notable subdominant species (less than 20% of relative abundance) in this assemblage were: Encyonema minutum, Encyonopsis microcephala and Navicula cryptocephala. The diversity values during this second period were much higher than in the first: 1.0-2.2. Nutrient concentrations were measured separately in the limnetic (epilimnetic) and benthic (epilithic) environments. These abiotic parameters show that the dynamics of ammonia and silica were much the same in both, showing a gradual decrease from the beginning to the end of the study period. Epilimnetic phosphorus followed a similar pattern to ammonia and silica. In the epilithon, nitrates and phosphates increased during the first year, only to descend notably during the second. The effect of other environmental parameters such as temperature and the preceding drought on the dynamics of the diatom assemblage are discussed. Ratio DIN:SRP let us test the different degrees of phosphorus limitation in epilithon and epilimnion environments; our results suggest that phosphorus limitation of primary production in high mountain lakes is much more severe in the limnetic environment that it is in the epilithon.

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