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In 2004 a four year study performed for NJDEP by the Patrick Center for Environmental Research showed that trophic diatom inference models could be used effectively to assess late-summer nutrient concentrations and benthic algal responses specific to different physiographic provinces in the state. Diatoms are widely recognized and used as indicators of river and stream water quality because benthic diatom species composition responds directly to nutrients and can be a more stable indicator of tropic state than measurements of nutrient concentrations or algal biomass (e.g., chlorophyll a). Objectives of the study were to: 1) develop New Jersey specific field and lab protocols for characterizing eutrophication (nutrient concentrations) in streams using attached periphyton algae, 2) assess the relationships between stressors (i.e., total phosphorus/nitrogen) and overt signs of eutrophication (e.g., algae), and 3) develop biological metrics as potential biocriteria (e.g., diatom community structure and trophic diatom indices - TDI). We chose weighted average inference modeling as our approach because it incorporated the most accurate method for quantifying species response to nutrients. We used nutrient concentrations inferred from the models in two ways: 1) directly, by using the inferred diatom values as estimates of the nutrient concentrations prevailing at the site during the time the algal assemblages were developing, and 2) indirectly, by rescaling the inferred concentrations from 0–100 to create trophic diatom indices (TDI) more easily interpretable by non-specialists. In the current study in 2004 we performed a pilot study to test the TDIs above and below two Sewage Treatment Plant (STP) facilities in New Jersey to evaluate their usefulness as a stressor-response model necessary to generate site-specific biocriteria for nutrients. We conclude that the TP and TN diatom inference models and indices are promising tools to monitor and infer nutrient conditions but that further study is necessary to adequately evaluate their effectiveness for routine use as part of a regulatory program. Diatom community composition differed among sites, and the differences can be explained by variation in nutrient concentrations. Diatom indices indicated relatively high nutrient conditions at all sampling sites, and between-site differences were consistent with measured values. Both the diatom indicators of enrichment and the measured nutrient concentrations showed a marked increase below one STP, but not below the other. This may be because the discharge from one plant was much greater than the other, one-time sampling did not represent longer-term nutrient conditions, or there are other important, unaccounted-for factors influencing nutrient concentrations.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: January 1, 2005

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