Geo-climatic factors drive diatom community distribution in tropical South American freshwaters

Xavier Benito, Sherilyn C. Fritz, Miriam Steinitz-Kannan, Pedro M. Tapia, Meredith A. Kelly, Thomas V. Lowell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Patterns that maintain and generate biodiversity of macro-organisms in the Neotropics are widely discussed in the scientific literature, yet the spatial ecology of micro-organisms is largely unknown. The unique character of the tropical Andes and adjacent Amazon lowlands generates a wide gradient of environmental conditions to advance our understanding of what drives community assembly and diversity processes. We analysed the distribution patterns of benthic diatoms (unicellular siliceous algae) as a model group of microbial passive dispersers, including predictors that describe limnological and geo-climatic gradients for a total of 113 waterbodies (0–28°S and 58–80°W), including lakes and streams. Complementary multivariate statistical analyses were performed to correlate (1) community composition and (2) diatom species richness with environmental and spatial factors to infer niche-based and dispersal-based assembly processes, respectively. Results showed that two gradients structured both diatom assemblages and waterbodies, namely climate and landscape configuration. Variance partitioning revealed that broadscale spatial variables (distance-based Moran's Eigenvectors) outperformed the two environmental components (limnological and geo-climatic), suggesting dispersal-assembled communities. However, diatom assemblages were structured by geo-climatic (regional) factors in certain lakes in the northern and central Andes, although their effects were partially manifested via local variables after the geographical distances were factored out. In a similar way, climatic and topographic structuring homogenized lake and stream communities within ecoregions, as indicated by the strong overlap between the two community types and the weak correlation between biota and limnological variables. Notably, a significant increase in diatom species richness was related to increased water connectivity, interpreted to indicate that a decrease in the remoteness of the system increase species number. Synthesis. We emphasize the strength of macroecological gradients (landscape configuration and climatic factors) in affecting both diatom diversity and community composition in the South American tropics. In this context, our results and the commonalities of ecoregion patterning with groups of macro-organisms (vegetation) suggest the need to integrate microbial ecology into a macroecology framework to unravel mechanisms behind diversity gradients.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1660-1672
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2018


  • Amazon
  • Andes
  • lakes
  • latitudinal diversity
  • spatial ecology
  • streams

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology
  • Plant Science


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