Temporal changes in biological traits of diatom communities in response to an oil spill in a subtropical river

Abstract: Diatom growth strategies, which are used as a proxy to analyze disturbances and environmental impacts, can also provide reliable information about environmental gradients. In this study, we used diatom communities and biological traits to assess the structure of epilithic diatoms after an oil spill in a large tributary of the Iguaçu River (Paraná, Brazil). Epilithon and water samples were taken on July 12th, 2004, and after an unexpected oil spill, on the following days: 09/19, 10/03, and 10/13/2004. We observed that the spill caused a distinct shift in both diatom composition and guild group. Diversity decreased and pollution-tolerant diatoms of the motile group became dominant in response to the elevated nutrient levels and reduced light. Tube-forming diatoms, which are strong competitors for light, dominated the epilithon 24 days after the oil spill. Both diatom guilds and growth forms were successfully used to predict the environmental conditions. While diatom guilds responded to disturbances along a temporal gradient, changes inside the guilds were the main factor for understanding the environmental gradient.