Surf zone diatoms: a review of the drivers, patterns and role in sandy beaches food chains

Odebrecht, Clarisse; Preez, Derek Richard du; Abreu, Paulo Cesar Oliveira Vergne de; Campbell, Eileen Elaine


The accumulation of high biomass of diatoms in the surf zone is a characteristic feature of some sandy beaches where the wave energy is sufficiently high. A few species of diatoms, called surf diatoms, thrive in this harsh environment. The main processes driving the spatial and temporal distribution of surf diatoms as well as their standing biomass and growth were described twenty to thirty years ago based on studies conducted on the western coast of the United States of America and South African beaches. Since then, over fifty locations around the world have been reported to have surf diatom accumulations with most (three-quarters) of these being in the southern hemisphere. Their occurrence is controlled by physical and chemical factors, including wave energy, beach slope and length, water circulation patterns in the surf zone and the availability of nutrients to sustain the high biomass. The main forces driving the patterns of temporal variability of surf diatom accumulations are meteorological. In the short term (hours), the action of wind stress and wave energy controls the diatom accumulation. In the intermediate time scale (weeks to months), seasonal onshore winds of sufficient strength, as well as storm events are important. Furthermore, anthropogenic disturbances that influence the beach ecosystem as well as large-scale events, such as the El Niño Southern Oscillation, may lead to significant changes in surf diatom populations in the long term (inter-annual). Surf diatoms form the base of a short and very productive food chain in the inshore of the sandy beaches where they occur. However, the role of surf diatoms in the microbial food web is not clear and deserves further studies.

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