Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)

First Advisor

Diane McKnight

Second Advisor

Sarah Spaulding

Third Advisor

Adrian Howkins


The McMurdo Dry Valleys (MDVs) and the exposed coastal areas of the nearby Ross Island in Antarctica represent some of the coldest, driest places in the world. However, during the austral summer warmer temperatures and constant sunlight allow microbial life to flourish nearly anywhere there is water. Diatoms are single-celled algae encapsulated in a silica shell and diatom communities constitute an important component of the microbial mats that grow in the streams, lakes and ponds in these regions. As part of the Long Term Ecological Research station in the McMurdo Dry Valleys diatom communities have been studied extensively in the streams over the last 20 years. Although the diatoms present in pond microbial mats at Cape Royds have been previously studied, modern-day knowledge of the characteristics of diatom communities in ponds and small lakes throughout the region is limited. This work sought to find the relationships between water chemistry and diatom community structure in ponds. Because water flow is not a factor in ponds and small lakes, influences of salinity, nutrients, pH and other factors can be more easily distinguished. This study looked at 24 separate bodies of water in the Taylor Valley, Labyrinth region in Wright Valley, Cape Royds and McMurdo Station area on Ross Island. The results suggest that geography, dispersal and historical environmental conditions play a significant role in structuring diatom communities, in addition to water chemistry. The results also expand the knowledge of habitat preferences for some of the species present in this region.