This study explores the relationships between environmental factors and the distribution of epilithic diatoms in 161 estuaries of three coastal areas on the Korean peninsula. We investigated epilithic diatoms, water quality, and land use in the vicinities of the estuaries during the months
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This study explores the relationships between environmental factors and the distribution of epilithic diatoms in 161 estuaries of three coastal areas on the Korean peninsula. We investigated epilithic diatoms, water quality, and land use in the vicinities of the estuaries during the months of May 2012, 2013 and 2014, because Korea is relatively free from the influences of rainfall at that time of year. We recorded 327 diatom taxa from the study sites, and the assemblage was dominated by members of the Naviculaceae. Bacillariaceae accounted for the largest proportion of diatoms, and Nitzschia inconspicua
(18%) and N. frustulum
(9.6%) were the most dominant species. A cluster analysis based on epilithic diatom abundance suggested that the epilithic diatom communities of Korean estuaries can be classified into four large groups (G) according to geography, as follows: Ia—the East Sea watershed, Ib—the eastern watershed of the South Sea, IIa—the West Sea watershed, and IIb—the western watershed of the South Sea. The former two groups, Ia and Ib, showed higher proportions of forest land cover and use, higher species occurrence, lower salinity, lower turbidity, and lower concentrations of nutrients than the latter two groups, while the latter groups, IIa and IIb, had higher proportions of agricultural land cover and use, higher electrical conductivity, higher turbidity, higher concentrations of nutrients, and lower species occurrence. The environmental factors underlying the distribution of epilithic diatoms, representative of each region, are as follows: dissolved oxygen and forest land cover and use for Reimeria sinuate and Rhoicosphenia abbreviate of the East Sea (ES), salinity and turbidity for Tabularia fasciculate of the West Sea (WS), and biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and nutrients for Cyclotella meneghiniana
of the WS. On the other hand, the most influential environmental factors affecting the occurrence of indicator species showing the highest indicator values (>60%) of each group were electrical conductivity for Navicula saprophila
and Reimeria sinuate
of Ia, and turbidity for Encyonema minutum
of IIa. Collectively, the distribution of epilithic diatom communities inhabiting Korean estuaries are determined by geographical factors and water quality, which are in turn influenced by land cover and use, and which differ from east to west.