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Durham University

Department of Geography

Departmental Research Projects

Publication details

Snell, M. A., Barker, P. A., Surridge, B. W. J., Benskin, C. McW. H., Barber, N., Reaney, S. M., Tych, W., Mindham, D., Large, A. R. G., Burke, S. & Haygarth, P. M. Strong and recurring seasonality revealed within stream diatom assemblages. Scientific Reports. 2019;9:3313.

Author(s) from Durham


Improving stream water quality in agricultural landscapes is an ecological priority and a legislative duty for many governments. Ecosystem health can be effectively characterised by organisms sensitive to water quality changes such as diatoms, single-celled algae that are a ubiquitous component of stream benthos. Diatoms respond within daily timescales to variables including light, temperature, nutrient availability and flow conditions that result from weather and land use characteristics. However, little consideration has been given to the ecological dynamics of diatoms through repeated seasonal cycles when assessing trajectories of stream function, even in catchments actively managed to reduce human pressures. Here, six years of monthly diatom samples from three independent streams, each receiving differing levels of diffuse agricultural pollution, reveal robust and repeated seasonal variation. Predicted seasonal changes in climate-related variables and anticipated ecological impacts must be fully captured in future ecological and water quality assessments, if the apparent resistance of stream ecosystems to pollution mitigation measures is to be better understood.

Department of Geography