While flowering plants ornament the landscape and are very visible at Rocky Mountain National Park, some plants are seldom seen. Algae, which float in lakes, wetlands, and ponds in the park are virtually unnoticeable. They are very important, however, because they generate oxygen and provide food for larger aquatic (water living) animals.

Scientists are especially interested in one group of algae, the diatoms, because they are excellent indicators of ecosystem conditions. By studying the kinds of diatoms present, scientists can determine if acid rain is falling, if there are heavy metals in the water, if a lake is very productive, and many other things about the park's ecosystems.

Another bonus to diatoms is that their cell walls are made out of silica (just like window glass) and they can remain in the layers of sediments at the bottom of lakes for thousands of years. These sediment layers can tell us what the ecosystem was like in the distant past.

Diatoms Reported* from Rocky Mountain National Park

Scientific Name
Achnanthes holsatica
Achnanthes conspicua
Achnanthes laterostrata
Achnanthes levanderi
Achnanthes minutissima
Achnanthes oestrupii
Achnanthes rosenstockii
Asterionella formosa
Aulacoseira alpigena
Aulacoseira distans
Aulacoseira distans var. nivalis
Aulacoseira lirata
Aulacoseira perglabra
Caloneis bacillum
Cyclotella stelligera
Cymbella hebridica
Cymbella minuta
Cymbella naviculiformis
Eunotia pectinalis var. minor
Fragilaria brevistriata
Fragilaria capucina
Fragilaria construens var. venter
Fragilaria crotonensis
Fragilaria pinnata
Fragilaria virescens var. exigua
Gomphonema parvulum
Hannaea arcus
Luticola spp.
Navicula perpusilla
Navicula pseudoscutiformis
Navicula schmassmannii
Navicula variosatriata
Navicula vitrea
Nitzschia dissipata
Nitzschia fonticola
Nitzschia palea
Nitzschia perminuta
Nupela spp.
Orthoseira roseana
Pinnularia biceps
Pinnularia brebissonii
Pinnularia nodosa
Sellaphora laevissima
Sellaphora pupula
Stauroneis anceps
Stauroneis smithii
Synedra radians
Synedra rumpens
Tabellaria flocculosa
Tetracyclus emarginatus

* Information from:
An unpublished list supplied to the park by Alexander P. Wolfe, Earth & Atmospheric Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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