Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 49, Issue 3, pp 411–430 | Cite as

Diatom taphonomy and silica cycling in two freshwater lakes and their implications for inferring past lake productivity

  • David B. Ryves
  • N. John  Anderson
  • Roger J. Flower
  • Brian Rippey
Original paper


Diatom preservation can be a major taphonomic issue in many lakes but is often unrecognised and its impacts on qualitative and quantitative inferences (such as productivity and biodiversity estimates) from sedimentary archives are seldom explored. Here two palaeolimnological case studies of 20th-century anthropogenic eutrophication of freshwater lakes in Northern Ireland (Lough Neagh and Lough Augher) are re-visited and new data presented on diatom preservation. Assessing problems of taphonomy challenges previous interpretations of silica dynamics and diatom productivity at these sites. Diatom preservation was assessed in both sediment trap material and sediment cores from Lough Neagh, and in sediment cores from Lough Augher. Preservation data, combined with geochemical analysis (Si, Fe), provide an insight into silica cycling and diatom accumulation over a range of temporal scales from these lakes. Diatom preservation was generally good for the Lough Neagh material, although differential (better) preservation of the smaller Aulacoseira subarctica compared to the larger Stephanodiscus neoastraea sensu lato valves was clear, especially in sediments. Porewater silica showed a complex seasonal pattern in the upper sediment, against expectations of steady-state. The Lough Augher material was generally poorly preserved, although preservation (dissolution) was significantly (and positively) correlated to bulk sedimentation rate, and was found to be a major control on (net) diatom accumulation rate across the basin. Past seasonal and severe anoxia at Lough Augher did not improve diatom preservation, contrary to some previous studies, which may be due to extreme changes in sedimentary redox conditions. Finally, using published experimental relationships between dissolution and diatom valve loss, correction factors were applied to previously published profiles of diatom accumulation over the last ~150 years (biovolume from Lough Neagh and frustule accumulation rate from Lough Augher), which suggest that diatom productivity estimates from sedimentary records are underestimated by a factor of 2–4 due to dissolution effects alone. The results clearly have implications for the reliability and accuracy of diatom-based inferences made from sediment records, both qualitative and quantitative, especially for those that employ diatoms as direct measures of productivity or biodiversity.


Lough Neagh Lough Augher Dissolution Breakage Porewater chemistry Sediment traps Stephanodiscus Aulacoseira 



We thank Bob Foy for supplying data for Lough Neagh silica concentration for 1977-78 and 1983, and two anonymous reviewers for many improvements and useful comments to the manuscript. This paper is a contribution to the special edition of Journal of Paleolimnology on the occasion of Professor Rick Battarbee’s retirement. It is a pleasure for us to acknowledge enthusiastic discussion with RWB on diatom dissolution, silica cycling and spatial variability within lakes on many occasions, and his inspiration and encouragement to us as aquatic scientists over many years.


  1. Anderson NJ (1986) Diatom biostratigraphy and comparative core correlation within a small lake basin. Hydrobiologia 143:105–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson NJ (1989) A whole-basin diatom accumulation rate for a small eutrophic lake in Northern Ireland and its paleoecological implications. J Ecol 77:926–946CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Anderson NJ (1990a) Inferring diatom paleoproduction and lake trophic status from fossil diatom assemblages. Mem Calif Acad Sci 17:539–547Google Scholar
  4. Anderson NJ (1990b) Variability of diatom concentrations and accumulation rates in sediments of a small lake basin. Limnol Oceanogr 35:497–508CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Anderson NJ (1997) Historical changes in epilimnetic phosphorus concentrations in six rural lakes in Northern Ireland. Freshwat Biol 38:427–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Anderson NJ, Battarbee RW (1994) Aquatic community persistence and variability: a palaeolimnological perspective. In: Giller PS, Hildrew AG, Raffaelli DG (eds) Aquatic ecology: scale, pattern and process. Blackwell Scientific Publications, University College, Cork, pp 233–259Google Scholar
  7. Anderson NJ, Rippey B (1988) Diagenesis of magnetic minerals in the recent sediments of a eutrophic lake. Limnol Oceanogr 33:1476–1492CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Anderson NJ, Rippey B (1994) Monitoring lake recovery from point-source eutrophication: the use of diatom-inferred epilimnetic total phosphorus and sediment chemistry. Freshwat Biol 32:625–639CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Anderson NJ, Rippey B, Stevenson AC (1990) Change to a diatom assemblage in a eutrophic lake following point-source nutrient re-direction—a paleolimnological approach. Freshwat Biol 23:205–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Applin KR (1987) The diffusion of dissolved silica in dilute aqueous solution. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 51:2147–2151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Barker P, Gasse F, Roberts N, Taieb M (1990) Taphonomy and diagenesis in diatom assemblages; a Late Pleistocene palaeoecological study from Lake Magadi, Kenya. Hydrobiologia 214:267–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Barker P, Fontes J-C, Gasse F, Druart J-C (1994) Experimental dissolution of diatom silica in concentrated salt solutions and implications for paleoenvironmental reconstruction. Limnol Oceanogr 39:99–110CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Battarbee RW (1973) A new method for the estimation of absolute microfossil numbers, with reference especially to diatoms. Limnol Oceanogr 18:647–653CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Battarbee RW (1978a) Observations on the recent history of Lough Neagh and its drainage basin. Philos Trans R Soc Lond Ser B Biol Sci 281:303–345Google Scholar
  15. Battarbee RW (1978b) Relative composition, concentration, and calculated influx of diatoms from a sediment core from Lough Erne, Northern Ireland. Pol Arch Hydrobiol 25:9–16Google Scholar
  16. Battarbee RW, Kneen MJ (1982) The use of electronically counted microspheres in absolute diatom analysis. Limnol Oceanogr 27:184–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Battarbee RW, Carvalho L, Jones VJ, Flower RJ, Cameron NG, Bennion H, Juggins S (2001) Diatoms. In: Smol JP, Birks HJB, Last WM (eds) Tracking environmental change using lake sediments—terrestrial, algal, and siliceous indicators, vol 3. Springer, New York, pp 155–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Battarbee RW, Anderson NJ, Bennion H, Simpson GL (2012) Combining limnological and palaeolimnological data to disentangle the effects of nutrient pollution and climate change on lake ecosystems: problems and potential. Freshw Biol 57:2091–2106CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Beckwith RS, Reeve R (1964) Studies on soluble silica in soils. II. The release of monosilicic acid from soils. Aust J Soil Res 2:33–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Bennion H, Juggins S, Anderson NJ (1996) Predicting epilimnetic phosphorous concentrations using an improved diatom-based transfer function and its application to lake eutrophication management. Environ Sci Technol 30:2004–2007CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Bidle KD, Azam F (1999) Accelerated dissolution of diatom silica by marine bacterial assemblages. Nature 397:508–512CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Bidle KD, Brzezinski MA, Long RA, Jones JL, Azam F (2003) Diminished efficiency in the oceanic silica pump caused by bacteria-mediated silica dissolution. Limnol Oceanogr 48:1855–1868CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Bock R (1979) A handbook of decomposition methods in analytical chemistry. International Textbook Company, GlasgowGoogle Scholar
  24. Boström B, Pettersson A-K, Ahlgren I (1989) Seasonal dynamics of a cyanobacteria-dominated microbial community in surface sediments of a shallow, eutrophic lake. Aquat Sci 51:153–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Bradbury JP (1975) Diatom stratigraphy and human settlement in Minnesota. Geol Soc Am Spec Pap 171:1–74Google Scholar
  26. Bradbury JP, Winter TC (1976) Areal distribution and stratigraphy of diatoms in the sediments of Lake Sallie, Minnesota. Ecology 57:1005–1014CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Brinkhurst RO, Chua KE, Batoosingh E (1969) Modifications in sampling procedures as applied to studies on the bacteria and tubificid oligochaetes inhabiting aquatic sediments. J Fish Res Bd Can 26Google Scholar
  28. Bunting L, Leavitt PR, Gibson CE, McGee EJ, Hall VA (2007) Degradation of water quality in Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland, by diffuse nitrogen flux from a phosphorus-rich catchment. Limnol Oceanogr 52:354–369CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Conley DJ, Schelske CL (1989) Processes controlling the benthic regeneration and sedimentary accumulation of biogenic silica in Lake Michigan. Archiv für Hydrobiologie 116:23–43Google Scholar
  30. Conley DJ, Quigley MA, Schelske CL (1988) Silica and phosphorus flux from sediments—importance of internal recycling in Lake Michigan. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 45:1030–1035CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Dakin WJ, Latarche M (1913) The plankton of Lough Neagh: a study of the seasonal changes in the plankton by quantitative methods. Proc R Irish Acad 3015:20–95Google Scholar
  32. Davison W (1993) Iron and manganese in lakes. Earth Sci Rev 34:119–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Dickson EL (1975) A silica budget for Lough Neagh 1970–1972. Freshwat Biol 5:1–12CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Engstrom DR, Swain EB, Kingston JC (1985) A palaeolimnological record of human disturbance from Harvey’s Lake, Vermont: geochemistry, pigments and diatoms. Freshwat Biol 15:262–388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Flower RJ (1980) A study of sediment formation, transport and deposition in Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland, with special reference to diatoms. University of Ulster, Unpublished DPhilGoogle Scholar
  36. Flower RJ (1991) Field calibration and performance of sediment traps in a eutrophic holomictic lake. J Paleolimnol 5:175–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Flower RJ (1993) Diatom preservation: experiments and observations on dissolution and breakage in modern and fossil material. Hydrobiologia 269/270:473–484Google Scholar
  38. Flower RJ, Nicholson AJ (1987) Relationships between bathymetry, water quality and diatoms in some Hebridean lochs. Freshwat Biol 18:71–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Flower RJ, Ryves DB (2009) Diatom preservation: differential preservation of sedimentary diatoms in two saline lakes. Acta Bot Croat 68:381–399Google Scholar
  40. Flower RJ, Dobinson S, Ramdani M, Kraïem MM, Ben Hamza C, Fathi AA, Abdelzaher HMA, Birks HH, Appleby PG, Lees JA, Shilland E, Patrick ST (2001) Recent environmental change in North African wetland lakes: diatom and other stratigraphic evidence from nine sites in the CASSARINA Project. Aquat Ecol 35:369–388CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Foy RH, Lennox SD (2006) Evidence for a delayed response of riverine phosphorus exports from increasing agricultural catchment pressures in the Lough Neagh catchment. Limnol Oceanogr 51 (1, part 2):655–663Google Scholar
  42. Foy RH, Lennox SD, Gibson CE (2003) Changing perspectives on the importance of urban phosphorus inputs as the cause of nutrient enrichment in Lough Neagh. Sci Total Environ 310:87–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Gibson CE (1981) Silica budgets and the ecology of planktonic diatoms in an unstratified lake (Lough-Neagh, Northern-Ireland). Int Rev Gesamt Hydrobiol 66:641–664CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Gibson CE, Stewart DA (1993) Nutrient cycles in Lough Neagh. In: Wood RB, Smith RB (eds) Lough Neagh. Kluwer, Dordrecht, pp 171–201CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Gibson CE, Smith RV, Stewart DA (1988) A long-term study of the phosphorus cycle in Lough Neagh, Northern-Ireland. Int Rev Gesamt Hydrobiol 73:249–257CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Gibson CE, Wang G, Foy RH (2000) Silica and diatom growth in Lough Neagh: the importance of internal cycling. Freshwat Biol 45:285–293CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Golterman HL, Clymo RS, Ohnstad MAM (1978) Methods for physical and chemical analysis of fresh waters. Blackwell Scientific Publications, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  48. Häkansson H, Hickel B (1986) The morphology and taxonomy of the diatom Stephanodiscus neoastraea sp. nov. Brit Phycol J 21:39–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Hecky RE, Kilham P (1973) Diatoms in alkaline, saline lakes: ecology and geochemical implications. Limnol Oceanogr 18:53–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Hecky RE, Kling HJ, Brunskill GJ (1986) Seasonality of phytoplankton in relation to silicon cycling and interstitial water circulation in large, shallow lakes of central Canada. Hydrobiologia 138:117–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Hutchinson GE (1957) A treatise on limnology. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  52. Jewson DH (1992a) Life cycle of Stephanodiscus sp. (Bacillariophyta). J Phycol 28:856–866CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Jewson DH (1992b) Size reduction, reproductive strategy and the life cycle of a centric diatom. Phil Trans R Soc Lond B 336:191–213CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Jewson DH, Zlinszky J (1991) The problems of restoring large lakes. Rep Suwa Hydrobiol 7:9–19Google Scholar
  55. Jewson DH, Rippey BH, Gilmore WK (1981) Loss rates from sedimentation, parasitism, and grazing during the growth, nutrient limitation, and dormancy of a diatom crop. Limnol Oceanogr 26:1045–1056Google Scholar
  56. Jones VJ, Flower RJ (1986) Spatial and temporal variability in periphytic diatom communities: Palaeoecological significance in an acidified lake. In: Smol JP, Battarbee RW, Davis RB, Meriläinen J (eds) Diatoms and lake acidity. Dr. W. Junk Publishers, Dordrecht, pp 87–94CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Krammer K, Lange-Bertalot H (1991) Bacillariophyceae. 3: Teil: Centrales, Fragilariaceae, Eunotiaceae. Gustav Fischer Verlag, Stuttgart, JenaGoogle Scholar
  58. Lewin JC (1961) The dissolution of silica from diatom walls. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 21:182–198CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Mackereth FJH (1969) A short core sampler for sub-aqueous deposits. Limnol Oceanogr 14:145–151CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Mayer LM, Jorgensen J, Schnitker D (1991) Enhancement of diatom frustule dissolution by iron oxides. Mar Geol 99:263–266CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Meriläinen J (1971) The recent sedimentation of diatom frustules in four meromictic lakes. Ann Bot Fennici 8:160–176Google Scholar
  62. Meriläinen J (1973) The dissolution of diatom frustules and its palaeoecological interpretation. University of Lund, Department of Geology Report no. 3, pp 91–95Google Scholar
  63. Phillips-Howard KD (1982) What happened to agriculture’s contribution? An independent assessment of phosphorus inputs to Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland. Internat. Inst. für Umwelt u. Gesellschaft, BerlinGoogle Scholar
  64. Quigley MA, Robbins JA (1984) Silica regeneration processes in nearshore southern Lake Michigan. J Great Lakes Res 10:383–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Reed JM (1998) Diatom preservation in the recent sediment record of Spanish saline lakes: implications for palaeoclimate study. J Paleolimnol 19:129–137CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Reynolds CS (1984) The ecology of freshwater phytoplankton. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  67. Rippey B (1983) A laboratory study of the silicon release process from a lake sediment (Lough Neagh, Northern Ireland). Arch Hydrobiol 96:417–433Google Scholar
  68. Rippey B, Anderson NJ, Foy RH (1997) Accuracy of diatom-inferred total phosphorus concentrations and the accelerated eutrophication of a lake due to reduced flushing and increased internal loading. Can J Fish Aquat Sci 54:2637–2646Google Scholar
  69. Round FE (1964) The diatom sequence in lake deposits, some problems of interpretation. Verhandlungen Internationale Vereinigung für Theoretische und angewandte Limnologie 15:1012–1020Google Scholar
  70. Round FE (1981) The ecology of algae. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  71. Round FE (1991) The diatom genus Stephanodiscus: an electron microscope view of the classical species. Archiv für Protiskunde 124:455–470CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Ryves DB, Juggins S, Fritz SC, Battarbee RW (2001) Experimental diatom dissolution and the quantification of microfossil preservation in sediments. Palaeogeogr Palaeoclimatol Palaeoecol 172:99–113CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Ryves DB, Jewson DH, Sturm M, Battarbee RW, Flower RJ, Mackay AW, Granin N (2003) Quantitative and qualitative relationships between planktonic diatom communities and diatom assemblages in sedimenting material and surface sediments in Lake Baikal, Siberia. Limnol Oceanogr 48:1643–1661CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Ryves DB, Battarbee RW, Juggins S, Fritz SC, Anderson NJ (2006) Physical and chemical predictors of diatom dissolution in freshwater and saline lake sediments in North America and West Greenland. Limnol Oceanogr 51:1355–1368CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Ryves DB, Battarbee RW, Fritz SC (2009) The dilemma of disappearing diatoms: incorporating diatom dissolution data into palaeoenvironmental modelling and reconstruction. Quatern Sci Rev 28:120–136CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Spamer EE, Theriot EC (1997) “Stephanodiscus minutulus”, “S. minutus”, and similar epithets in taxonomic, ecological, and evolutionary studies of modern and fossil diatoms (Bacillariophyceae: Thalassiosiraceae)—a century and a half of uncertain taxonomy and nomenclatural hearsay. Proc Acad Nat Sci Phila 148:231–272Google Scholar
  77. Van Cappellen P, Dixit S, van Beusekom J (2002) Biogenic silica dissolution in the oceans: Reconciling experimental and field-based dissolution rates. Global Biogeochem Cycles 16: Article no. 1075Google Scholar
  78. Wood RB, Gibson CE (1973) Eutrophication and Lough Neagh. Water Res 7:173–187CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Wood RB, Smith RV (1993) Lough Neagh. Kluwer, DordrechtCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • David B. Ryves
    • 1
  • N. John  Anderson
    • 1
  • Roger J. Flower
    • 2
  • Brian Rippey
    • 3
  1. 1.Centre for Hydrological and Ecosystem Science (CHES), Department of GeographyLoughborough UniversityLoughborough, LeicsUK
  2. 2.Environmental Change Research Centre (ECRC), Department of GeographyUniversity College LondonLondonUK
  3. 3.Environmental Sciences Research Institute, School of Environmental SciencesUniversity of UlsterColeraine, Co. LondonderryNorthern Ireland, UK

Personalised recommendations