Abstract: We studied diatoms from the fifteen springs selected in the Berchtesgaden National Park on behalf of the Bavarian State Ministry for the Environment to be sentinel environments of climatechange effects. For three of these springs, diatom data based on samples taken in 1997 were also available. A total of 162 species belonging to 49 genera were found sampling three microhabitat types (lithic materials, bryophytes, surface sediments). The cumulative percentage of all species included in a threat category including endangered species was 43%, confirming previous findings for comparable environments of the Alps. We could find a statistically significant positive association between the Meinzer variability index for discharge and the cumulative relative abundance of aerial diatom species. This study thus highlighted once again the relevance of discharge (and associated water-level) variability as an environmental determinant of diatom assemblages in spring ecosystems. Increased nitrate concentrations in some springs, likely due to diffuse airborne pollution and, locally, to impacts such as forest management, game, and cattle, led to a relevant occurrence of eutraphentic diatom species. Our results show a segregation of the older data in non-parametric diatom-based ordinations, suggesting a strong potential for the use of spring diatoms in studies aiming at tracking the effects of climate and environmental change.
Keywords: diatoms; springs; ecological characteristics; climate-change effects; discharge variability; Berchtesgaden National Park; North-eastern Alps.