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Benthic algal communities were assessed in an agriculturally dominated landscape in the Central Columbia Plateau, Washington, to determine which environmental variables best explained species distributions, and whether algae species optima models were useful in predicting specific water-quality parameters. Land uses in the study area included forest, range, urban, and agriculture. Most of the streams in this region can be characterized as open-channel systems influenced by intensive dryland (nonirrigated) and irrigated agriculture. Algal communities in forested streams were dominated by blue-green algae, with communities in urban and range streams dominated by diatoms. The predominance of either blue-greens or diatoms in agricultural streams varied greatly depending on the specific site. Canonical correspondence analysis (CCA) indicated a strong gradient effect of several key environmental variables on benthic algal community composition. Conductivity and % agriculture were the dominant explanatory variables when all sites (n = 24) were included in the CCA; water velocity replaced conductivity when the CCA included only agricultural and urban sites. Other significant explanatory variables included dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), orthophosphate (OP), discharge, and precipitation. Regression and calibration models accurately predicted conductivity based on benthic algal communities, with OP having slightly lower predictability. The model for DIN was poor, and therefore may be less useful in this system. Thirty-four algal taxa were identified as potential indicators of conductivity and nutrient conditions, with most indicators being diatoms except for the blue-greens Anabaena sp. and Lyngbya sp.
Additional Publication Details
Response of benthic algae to environmental gradients in an agriculturally dominated landscape
Journal of the North American Benthological Society