Using different epilithic-diatom assemblage metrics for an ecological characterization of the shores of Lake Garda
AbstractIt has been proved that littoral diatoms provide a useful marker for detecting localised changes resulting from uneven anthropogenic disturbances or intermittent releases of sewage along the shorelines of lakes. This study tested the spatial resolution at which this general observation occurs, by selecting areas with different anthropogenic pressures (urbanization) along a latitudinal gradient in Lake Garda, a deep and wide peri-Alpine lake. The sampling design aimed to detect differences in diatom distribution in terms of species diversity, quality indices, proportion of Red List taxa, assemblages, and individual species. Because the extent to which diatom assemblages respond to these gradients was unknown, we used assemblage metrics of different sensitivities. Results showed that the most important environmental factor was the latitudinal gradient, which was revealed by almost all the assemblage metrics. This dominant trend was explained by two co-occurring environmental gradients: concentration of nutrients and thermal gradient. The importance of different levels of urbanization was unevenly partitioned among locations and latitudes because of the different intensities of urbanization pressure. Only the species Brachysira neglectissima, the quality index (Trophic Index), and to a lesser extent, the metric at assemblage level revealed significant effects. Overall, this study comes to two main conclusions: (1) different metrics are needed to detect the multifaceted effects of anthropogenic disturbances, which by their very nature are unevenly distributed and of different intensities, and therefore affect assemblages to different degrees; (2) for any monitoring program in this lake to be effective, the various gradients revealed in this work should be taken into account. Failing to include these sources of variability might lessen the benefits of monitoring.
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