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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2016

Linking phylogenetic similarity and pollution sensitivity to develop ecological assessment methods: a test with river diatoms

Keck, Francois; Bouchez, Agnes; Franc, Alain; Rimet, Frederic


1. Diatoms include a great diversity of taxa and are recognized as powerful bioindicators of freshwater quality. However, using diatoms for bioassessment is costly and time-consuming, because most of the indices necessitate species-level identification. Simplifying diatom-based assessment protocols has focused the attention of water managers and researchers in recent years.2. The increasing availability of genomic data and phylogenies can benefit in the development of bioassessment methods making use of these tools, where a clade plays the role of a species if relevant. Indeed, the null hypothesis is that closely related species are more likely to exhibit similar environmental sensitivity because of phylogenetic constraints and inheritance. Such patterns have been reported recently for sensitivity to a variety of pollutants for two important groups of bioindicators used for freshwater monitoring: benthic macroinvertebrates and diatoms.3. We introduce a method to extract clusters of species sharing similar traits and being phylogenetically related. We apply this method to the general pollution sensitivity (IPS specific sensitivity value; Etude des Methodes Biologiques d'Appreciation Quantitative de la Qualite des Eaux, 1982) of 262 species of diatoms and, by tuning the method settings, we generate different clade-based derivatives of the traditional IPS index.4. Finally, we estimate traditional and derived IPS scores for 2119 natural communities of diatoms in eastern France to compare and assess the performances of these new indices.5. Synthesis and applications. We show that phylogenetic approaches offer scope for simplification without loss of important information and we discuss the potential of their use in biomonitoring.


biomonitoring; clade-based analysis; diatoms; index of pollution sensitivity; phylogenetic clustering; phylogenetic signal; water quality

Published in

Journal of Applied Ecology
2016, Volume: 53, number: 3, pages: 856--864

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Environmental Sciences

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