Change in biomass of benthic and planktonic algae along a disturbance gradient for 24 Great Lakes coastal wetlands

McNair, S.A. and Chow-Fraser, P.
Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences
(2003) 60: 676-689


We quantified the chlorophyll a content of planktonic algae and benthic algae in periphyton on acrylic rods and in epiphyton growing on macrophytes in 24 coastal wetlands in all five Laurentian Great Lakes. Sites were selected to represent a wide range of environmental conditions ranging from nutrient-poor, clear-water marshes with abundant macrophytes to nutrient-enriched, turbid systems devoid of aquatic vegetation. Water quality and species and percent cover of submergent macrophytes were measured in each wetland. Principal components analysis (PCA) showed that total phosphorus, turbidity, and suspended solids, variables associated with human-induced degradation, were most strongly correlated with PC axis 1 (PC1), accounting for 69% of the total variation. The PC1 site score was significantly related to both periphyton and phytoplankton biomass, respectively accounting for 54 and 70% of the total variation in periphyton and phytoplankton data, whereas PC1 only accounted for 18% of the variation in epiphyton biomass. Periphytic and epiphytic biomass were negatively correlated with percent cover and species richness of submergent macrophytes, but phytoplankton biomass was not. We conclude that periphytic and planktonic chlorophyll a biomass are good indicators of human-induced water-quality degradation and recommend that both benthic and plank- tonic algal biomass should be routinely monitored as part of an effective wetland management program.

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