Structure and diversity of intertidal benthic diatom assemblages in contrasting shores: a case study from the Tagus estuary1


Author for correspondence: e-mail


The structure of intertidal benthic diatoms assemblages in the Tagus estuary was investigated during a 2-year survey, carried out in six stations with different sediment texture. Nonparametric multivariate analyses were used to characterize spatial and temporal patterns of the assemblages and to link them to the measured environmental variables. In addition, diversity and other features related to community physiognomy, such as size-class or life-form distributions, were used to describe the diatom assemblages. A total of 183 diatom taxa were identified during cell counts and their biovolume was determined. Differences between stations (analysis of similarity (ANOSIM), = 0.932) were more evident than temporal patterns (= 0.308) and mud content alone was the environmental variable most correlated to the biotic data (BEST, ρ = 0.863). Mudflat stations were typically colonized by low diversity diatom assemblages (H′ ~ 1.9), mainly composed of medium-sized motile epipelic species (250–1,000 μm3), that showed species-specific seasonal blooms (e.g., Navicula gregaria Donkin). Sandy stations had more complex and diverse diatom assemblages (H′ ~ 3.2). They were mostly composed by a large set of minute epipsammic species (<250 μm3) that, generally, did not show temporal patterns. The structure of intertidal diatom assemblages was largely defined by the interplay between epipelon and epipsammon, and its diversity was explained within the framework of the Intermediate Disturbance Hypothesis. However, the spatial distribution of epipelic and epipsammic life-forms showed that the definition of both functional groups should not be over-simplified.