ANSP Phycology Section
Ecology and Taxonomy of Freshwater Algae, particularly Diatoms
Phycology Section activities focus on ecology and taxonomy
of freshwater algae, particularly diatoms. We seek to
better understand the distributions of algal taxa
throughout the U.S., and the environmental factors
influencing both the occurrence of taxa over large
scales and the composition of assemblages at
individual sites. We are particularly interested in
applying knowledge of algal ecology to the assessment
of a wide range of environmental issues, but primarily
those related to water quality of rivers and streams.
Because there are so many algal taxa, because they live
in a wide variety of habitats, and because they have
specific ecological requirements, algae are excellent
ecological indicators, particularly of water quality.
Diatoms especially have a long history of use in
ecological assessment. Dr. Ruth Patrick, founder of
the Patrick Center, performed important pioneering research
on use of diatoms for biomonitoring starting in the 1940s.
Some of the largest projects we have worked on include the USGS National Water
Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA), US EPA’s lake and stream National Aquatic
Resource Surveys (NARS), and NSF’s National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON).
In addition to sample analysis we use algal data to assess ecological conditions,
quantify ecological characteristics of taxa, create and evaluate metrics, and help
develop nutrient criteria.
Our largest project was a Cooperative Agreement with the
USGS NAWQA program to
analyze algal samples from throughout the U.S. From 1995 - 2012 the Phycology
Section and its subcontractors analyzed over 8,000 samples. Results were
distributed to NAWQA biologists to help them assess ecological conditions.
We also analyzed national distributions of taxa and used NAWQA's environmental
data to quantify ecological characteristics of taxa, and develop new indicator metrics.
On a more regional scale, we worked to help develop algal indicators of
nutrient conditions in New Jersey streams for the NJ Department of
Environmental Protection. Some of this involved use of the Biological
Condition Gradient approach to develop nutrient criteria possibilities.
To help disseminate information from our studies, we developed this Phycology Section
website. The data currently accessible from this site include publications, our lists
of taxa names, our Algae Image database, the Diatom Paleolimnology Data Cooperative (DPDC)
database, and autecological data sets. Information in our databases on individual
taxa are available through the “Taxa” menu.
The Phycology Section has high quality facilities and equipment.
Some are shared with other PCER Sections, which also provide valuable
services (e.g., water chemistry analysis). We have a wide variety of
field equipment for taking algal samples (water samplers, sediment
coring equipment, boats), a separate laboratory for preparing algal
samples and making diatom slides, a microwave apparatus for digesting
diatom samples, six high quality research microscopes equipped with
digital cameras, local access to scanning electron microscopes, and
an extensive reference collection of taxonomic and ecological
literature - both in the laboratory and the Academy Library. Algal
analysts work near the
ANSP Diatom Herbarium
(largest in North America)
and consult regularly with its curator, Dr. Marina Potapova. All
Phycology staff have personal computers connected to the Academy
network. The section developed and maintains several applications
and databases, including the North American Diatom Ecological
Database (NADED), which contains count and other data on over
Historical photo - April 2008
Field collection of periphyton and phytoplankton samples
Deployment and collection of diatometers
Coring of lake and wetland sediments
Analysis of periphyton and phytoplankton samples;
identification and enumeration
Analysis of diatoms in sediment cores; environmental
Digital imaging of algae specimens; light microscope
Description of new diatom taxa
Multivariate analysis of species and environmental data
Calculation and development of metrics and other
water quality indicators
Calibration of inference models for inferring
Water quality assessment based on algal data (e.g.,
Back Row: Frank Acker, Pat Palmer, Judie Marie Roszek,
Middle Row: Nyree Martin, Marina Potapova,
Mihaela Enache, Rosemary Malfi, Andrew Tuccillo,
Front Row: Jennifer Beals, Ruth Patrick,