Nitrogen as the main driver of benthic diatom composition and diversity in oligotrophic coastal systems

Sci Total Environ. 2019 Dec 1;694:133773. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.133773. Epub 2019 Aug 5.


Phytoplankton is the main indicator group for eutrophication in coastal ecosystems, however its high dispersal potential does not enable the assessment of localized effects of coastal nutrient enrichment. Benthic diatoms are sessile microalgae associated with sandy substrates and have the potential to reflect more localized pollution impacts. Although benthic diatoms are widely used bioindicators in freshwater systems, they have rarely been used for assessing the eutrophication status of oligotrophic environments such as the eastern Mediterranean Sea. In the present study, we assess the efficiency of benthic diatoms as bioindicators of nutrient enrichment in oligotrophic coastal systems, by investigating the effect of different physicochemical conditions and nutrient concentrations on the assemblage composition, diversity and individual species populations. To do this, we sampled along a eutrophication gradient formed by anthropogenic nutrient inputs from a metropolitan area. The main driver of assemblage composition, diversity and biomass of diatoms was nitrogen concentration and its temporal and spatial changes. Nitrogen loadings were positively correlated with increased biomass of Cocconeis spp. and negatively correlated with Mastogloia spp. Our findings suggest that in coastal ecosystems of oligotrophic marine ecoregions, benthic diatom assemblage structure and specific taxonomic groups can be reliable predictors of coastal eutrophication offering higher spatial resolution compared to phytoplankton.

Keywords: Benthic diatoms; Bioindicators; Coastal systems; Cocconeis; Oligotrophic; Sandy substrates.

MeSH terms

  • Biomass
  • Diatoms / physiology*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Eutrophication
  • Fresh Water
  • Mediterranean Sea
  • Microalgae
  • Nitrogen / metabolism*
  • Phytoplankton
  • Rivers


  • Nitrogen