The use of diatoms to indicate water quality in wetlands : A South African perspective
Matlala, Malebo Desnet
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In a semi-arid country like South Africa, the availability and quality of water has always played an important part in determining not only where people can live, but also their quality of life. The supply of water is also becoming a restriction to the socio-economic development of the country, in terms of both the quality and quantity of what is available. Thus different monitoring techniques should be put in place to help inform the process of conserving this precious commodity and to improve the quality of what is already available. Water quality monitoring has traditionally been by the means of physico-chemical analysis; this has more recently been augmented with the use of biomonitoring techniques. However, since the biota commonly used to indicate aquatic conditions are not always present in wetlands; this study tested the use of diatoms as bio-indicators in wetlands. Diatom samples were collected from thirteen wetlands in the Western Cape Province, and cells from these communities were enumerated and diatom - based indices were calculated using version 3.1 of OMNIDIA. These indices were useful for indicating water quality conditions when compared to the measured physico-chemical parameters. In addition, most diatom species found were common to those found in riverine environments, making the transfer of ecological optima possible. The objective of the study was to provide a preliminary diatom-based index for wetlands, however, given the relatively small study area and the strong bias towards coastal wetlands it was deemed inadvisable to construct such an index, instead several indices are recommended for interim use until further research that more comprehensively covers wetlands in South Africa has been conducted. It is thus the recommendation of this study that more data is collected for comparison to other wetlands and that in the interim, indices such as SPI be applied for routine biomonitoring of these environments.