Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences

A diatom species index for bioassessment of Australian rivers

Bruce C. Chessman A B E , Nina Bate C , Peter A. Gell B D and Peter Newall C

A Department of Natural Resources, PO Box 3720, Parramatta, NSW 2124, Australia.

B e-Water Cooperative Research Centre, University of Canberra, ACT 2601, Australia.

C Environment Protection Authority, 40 City Road, Southbank, Vic. 3006, Australia.

D Geographical and Environmental Studies, University of Adelaide, SA 5005, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email:

Marine and Freshwater Research 58(6) 542-557
Submitted: 21 November 2006  Accepted: 5 April 2007   Published: 25 June 2007


The Diatom Index for Australian Rivers (DIAR), originally developed at the genus level, was reformulated at the species level with data from diatom sampling of rivers in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria. The resulting Diatom Species Index for Australian Rivers (DSIAR) was significantly correlated with the ARCE (Assessment of River Condition, Environment) index developed in the Australian National Land and Water Resources Audit (NLWRA), and with nine of the ARCE’s constituent indices and sub-indices, across 395 river reaches in south-eastern Australia. These correlations were generally stronger than those shown by the biological index that was used to assess river condition in the NLWRA, the ARCB (Assessment of River Condition, Biota) index based on macroinvertebrates and the Australian River Assessment System (AUSRIVAS). At a finer spatial scale, DSIAR was strongly and significantly correlated with measures of catchment urbanisation for streams in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria. DSIAR scores across south-eastern Australia bore little relationship to the latitude, longitude or altitude of sampling sites, suggesting that DSIAR is not greatly affected by macro-geographical position. In addition, DSIAR scores did not vary greatly among small-scale hydraulic environments within a site. DSIAR appears to have potential as a broad-scale indicator of human influences on Australian rivers, especially the effects of agricultural and urban land use, and also for impact studies at a local scale. Further evaluation is warranted to test the sensitivity of the index to natural variables such as catchment geology, and to assess its performance in northern, western and inland Australia.

Additional keywords: biological monitoring, biotic index, water quality.


Blinn D. W. Bailey P. C. E. 2001 Land-use influence on stream water quality and diatom communities in Victoria, Australia: a response to secondary salinization. Hydrobiologia 466 231 244 doi:10.1023/A:1014541029984

Blinn D. W. Halse S. A. Pinder A. M. Shiel R. J. McRae J. M. 2004 Diatom and micro-invertebrate communities and environmental determinants in the western Australian wheatbelt: a response to salinization. Hydrobiologia 528 229 248 doi:10.1007/s10750-004-2350-8

Chapman J. C. Simmons B. L. 1990 The effects of sewage on alpine streams in Kosciusko National Park, NSW. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 14 275 295 doi:10.1007/BF00677922

Chessman B. C. 1985 Artificial-substratum periphyton and water quality in the lower La Trobe River, Victoria. Australian Journal of Marine and Freshwater Research 36 855 871 doi:10.1071/MF9850855

Chessman B. C. (2002). ‘Assessing the Conservation Value and Health of New South Wales Rivers. The PBH (Pressure-Biota-Habitat) Project.’ (Department of Land and Water Conservation: Sydney.)

Chessman B. C. 2003 New sensitivity grades for Australian river macroinvertebrates. Marine and Freshwater Research 54 95 103 doi:10.1071/MF02114

Chessman B. C. Royal M. J. 2004 Bioassessment without reference sites: use of environmental filters to predict natural assemblages of river macroinvertebrates. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 23 599 615 doi:10.1899/0887-3593(2004)023<0599:BWRSUO>2.0.CO;2

Chessman B. , Gell P. , Newall P. , and Sonneman J. (1999 a). Draft protocol for sampling and laboratory processing of diatoms for the monitoring and assessment of streams. In ‘An Illustrated Key to Common Diatom Genera from Southern Australia. Identification Guide No. 26’. (Eds P. Gell, J. Sonneman, M. Reid, M. Illman and A. Sincock.) pp. 58–61. (Murray–Darling Freshwater Research Centre: Albury.)

Chessman B. Growns I. Currey J. Plunkett-Cole N. 1999 b Predicting diatom communities at the genus level for the rapid biological assessment of rivers. Freshwater Biology 41 317 331 doi:10.1046/J.1365-2427.1999.00433.X

Davies P. E. (2000). Development of a national river bioassessment system (AUSRIVAS) in Australia. In ‘Assessing the Biological Quality of Fresh Waters: RIVPACS and Other Techniques’. (Eds J. F. Wright, D.W. Sutcliffe and M. T. Furse.) pp. 113–124. (Freshwater Biological Association: Ambleside, UK.)

Dela-Cruz J. Pritchard T. Gordon G. Ajani P. 2006 The use of periphytic diatoms as a means of assessing impacts of point source inorganic nutrient pollution in south-eastern Australia. Freshwater Biology 51 951 972 doi:10.1111/J.1365-2427.2006.01537.X

Descy J.-P. Coste M. 1991 A test of methods for assessing water quality based on diatoms. Verhandlungen der Internationale Vereinigung für Theoretische und Angewandte Limnologie 24 2112 2116

DSE (2005). ‘Index of Stream Condition: the Second Benchmark of Victorian River Condition.’ (Department of Sustainability and Environment: Melbourne.)

EHMP (2005). ‘Ecosystem Health Monitoring Program 2003–04 Annual Technical Report.’ (Moreton Bay Waterways and Catchment Partnership: Brisbane.)

Fitzpatrick F. A. Scudder B. C. Lenz B. N. Sullivan D. J. 2001 Effects of multi-scale environmental characteristics on agricultural stream biota in eastern Wisconsin. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 37 1489 1507

Fore L. S. Grafe C. 2002 Using diatoms to assess the biological condition of large rivers in Idaho (U.S.A.). Freshwater Biology 47 2015 2037

Gell P. , Sonneman J. , Reid M. , Illman M. , and Sincock A. (1999). ‘An Illustrated Key to Common Diatom Genera from Southern Australia. Identification Guide No. 26.’ (Murray–Darling Freshwater Research Centre: Albury.)

Gell P. Tibby J. Fluin J. Leahy P. Reid M. et al. 2005 Accessing limnological change and variability using fossil diatom assemblages, south-east Australia. River Research and Applications 21 257 269 doi:10.1002/RRA.845

Growns I. 1999 Is genus or species identification of periphytic diatoms required to determine the impacts of river regulation? Journal of Applied Phycology 11 273 283 doi:10.1023/A:1008130202144

Growns I. O. Growns J. E. 2001 Ecological effects of flow regulation on macroinvertebrate and periphytic diatom assemblages in the Hawkesbury-Nepean River, Australia. Regulated Rivers: Research and Management 17 275 293 doi:10.1002/RRR.622

Harris J. H. Silviera R. 1999 Large-scale assessments of river health using an Index of Biotic Integrity with low-diversity fish communities. Freshwater Biology 41 235 252 doi:10.1046/J.1365-2427.1999.00428.X

Hill B. H. Stevenson R. J. Pan Y. Herlihy A. T. Kaufmann P. R. Johnson C. B. 2001 Comparison of correlations between environmental characteristics and stream diatom assemblages characterized at genus and species levels. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 20 299 310 doi:10.2307/1468324

Kelly M. G. Penny C. J. Whitton B. A. 1995 Comparative performance of benthic diatom indices used to assess river water quality. Hydrobiologia 302 179 188

Krammer K. (2000). ‘Diatoms of Europe. Diatoms of the European Inland Waters and Comparable Habitats, Vol. 1. The genus Pinnularia.’ (A. R. G. Gantner-Verlag K. G.: Ruggell.)

Krammer K. , and Lange-Bertalot H. (1986). ‘Süßwasserflora von Mitteleuropa, Bd 2/1. Bacillariophyceae. 1. Teil: Naviculaceae.’ (Gustav Fisher Verlag: Stuttgart.)

Krammer K. , and Lange-Bertalot H. (1988). ‘Süßwasserflora von Mitteleuropa, Bd 2/2. Bacillariophyceae. 2. Teil: Bacillariaceae, Epithemiaceae, Surirellaceae.’ (Gustav Fisher Verlag: Stuttgart.)

Krammer K. , and Lange-Bertalot H. (1991 a). ‘Süßwasserflora von Mitteleuropa, Bd 2/3. Bacillariophyceae. 3. Teil: Centrales, Fragilariaceae, Eunotiaceae.’ (Gustav Fisher Verlag: Stuttgart.)

Krammer K. , and Lange-Bertalot H. (1991 b). ‘Süßwasserflora von Mitteleuropa, Bd 2/4. Bacillariophyceae. 4. Teil: Achnanthaceae Kritische Ergänzungen zu Navicula (Lineolatae) und Gomphonema.’ (Gustav Fisher Verlag: Stuttgart.)

Lange-Bertalot H. (2001). ‘Diatoms of Europe. Diatoms of the European Inland Waters and Comparable Habitats, Vol. 2. Navicula sensu stricto. 10 genera separated from Navicula sensu lato. Frustulia.’ (A. R. G. Gantner-Verlag K. G.: Ruggell.)

Lange-Bertalot H. , and Metzeltin D. (1996). ‘Indicators of Oligotrophy. 800 taxa Representative of Three Ecologically Distinct Lake Types. Carbonated Buffered – Oligodystrophic – Weakly Buffered Soft Water. Iconographia Diatomologica 2.’ (Koeltz Scientific Books: Königstein.)

Lenoir A. , and Coste M. (1996). Development of a practical diatom index of overall water quality applicable to the French National Water Board Network. In ‘Use of Algae in Monitoring Rivers II’. (Eds B.A. Whitton and E. Rott). pp. 29–43. (Institut für Botanik, Universität Innsbruck: Innsbruck.)

Marchant R. Norris R. H. Milligan A. 2006 Evaluation and application of methods for biological assessment of streams: summary of papers. Hydrobiologia 572 1 7

MDBC (2004). ‘Sustainable Rivers Audit Program.’ (Murray–Darling Basin Commission: Canberra.)

Newall P. Walsh C. J. 2005 Response of epilithic diatom assemblages to urbanization influences. Hydrobiologia 532 53 67 doi:10.1007/S10750-004-9014-6

Newall P. Bate N. Metzeling L. 2006 A comparison of diatom and macroinvertebrate classification of sites in the Kiewa River system, Australia. Hydrobiologia 572 131 149 doi:10.1007/S10750-006-0263-4

Norris R. H. , Prosser I. , Young B. , Liston P. , Bauer N. , Davies N. , Dyer F. , Linke S. , and Thoms M. (2001). ‘The Assessment of River Condition (ARC). An Audit of the Ecological Condition of Australian Rivers.’ (CSIRO Land and Water: Canberra.)

Philibert A. Gell P. Newall P. Chessman B. Bate N. 2006 Development of diatom-based tools for assessing stream water quality in south eastern Australia: assessment of environmental transfer functions. Hydrobiologia 572 103 114 doi:10.1007/S10750-006-0371-1

Potapova M. G. Charles D. F. 2002 Benthic diatoms in USA rivers: distributions along spatial and environmental gradients. Journal of Biogeography 29 167 187 doi:10.1046/J.1365-2699.2002.00668.X

Prygiel J. 2002 Management of the diatom monitoring networks in France. Journal of Applied Phycology 14 19 26 doi:10.1023/A:1015268225410

Reichardt E. (1999). ‘Zur Revision der Gattung Gomphonema. Die Arten um G. affine/insigne, G. angustatum/micropus, G. acuminatum sowie gomphonemoide Diatomeen aus dem Oberoligozän in Böhmen. Iconographia Diatomologica 8.’ (Koeltz Scientific Books: Königstein.)

Round F. E. , Crawford R. M. , and Mann D. G. (1990). ‘The Diatoms: Biology and Morphology of the Genera.’ (Cambridge University Press: New York.)

Smith M. J. Kay W. R. Edward D. H. D. Papas P. J. Richardson K. et al. 1999 AusRivAS: using macroinvertebrates to assess ecological conditions of rivers in Western Australia. Freshwater Biology 41 269 282 doi:10.1046/J.1365-2427.1999.00430.X

Sonneman J. , Sincock A. , Fluin J. , Reid M ., Newall P. , Tibby J. , and Gell P. A. (2000). ‘An Illustrated Guide to Common Stream Diatom Species from Temperate Australia. Identification Guide No. 33.’ (Murray–Darling Freshwater Research Centre: Albury.)

Sonneman J. A. Walsh C. J. Breen P. F. Sharpe A. K. 2001 Effects of urbanization on streams of the Melbourne region, Victoria, Australia. II. Benthic diatom communities. Freshwater Biology 46 553 565 doi:10.1046/J.1365-2427.2001.00689.X

Stevenson R. J. , and Pan Y. (1999). Assessing environmental conditions in rivers and streams with diatoms. In ‘The Diatoms. Applications for the Environmental and Earth Sciences’. (Eds E. Stoermer and J. P. Smol.) pp. 11–40. (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.)

Turak E. Flack L. K. Norris R. H. Simpson J. Waddell N. 1999 Assessment of river condition at a large spatial scale using predictive models. Freshwater Biology 41 283 298 doi:10.1046/J.1365-2427.1999.00431.X

Walsh C. J. 2006 Biological indicators of stream health using macroinvertebrate assemblage composition: a comparison of sensitivity to an urban gradient. Marine and Freshwater Research 57 37 47 doi:10.1071/MF05041

Walsh C. J. Papas P. J. Crowther D. Sim P. T. Yoo J. 2004 Stormwater drainage pipes as a threat to a stream-dwelling amphipod of conservation significance, Austrogammarus australis, in southeastern Australia. Biodiversity and Conservation 13 781 793 doi:10.1023/B:BIOC.0000011726.38121.B0

Wang Y.-K. Stevenson R. J. Metzmeier L. 2005 Development and evaluation of a diatom-based Index of Biotic Integrity for the Interior Plateau Ecoregion, USA. Journal of the North American Benthological Society 24 990 1008 doi:10.1899/03-028.1

Witkowski A. , Lange-Bertalot H. , and Metzeltin D. (2000). ‘Diatom Flora of Marine Coasts, Volume 1. Iconographia Diatomologica 7.’ (Koeltz Scientific Books: Königstein.)

Wunsam S. Cattaneo A. Bourassa N. 2002 Comparing diatom species, genera and size in biomonitoring: a case study from streams in the Laurentians (Québec, Canada). Freshwater Biology 47 325 340 doi:10.1046/J.1365-2427.2002.00809.X

Export Citation Cited By (30)