To paraphrase Forrest Gump: “Diatom samples are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.”
Researchers in the Botany section at the Canadian Museum of Nature recently discovered five new Canadian diatom species. Four were from a stream in the VanDusen Botanical Garden (VDBG), a beautiful green space located in central Vancouver, British Columbia. The fifth was from Gibson Lake in Renfrew County, Ontario, just north of Algonquin Provincial Park.
Diatoms are microscopic, photosynthetic algae with special shells made of silica, known as frustules. Found in freshwater and marine environments, as well as soil, they’re used by biologists to study water quality and climate change.
Senior Research Assistant Paul Hamilton runs a diatom research program at the Museum. He assists students and scientists by sharing his expertise and providing access to equipment and collections.I work with Paul as a volunteer and so-called citizen scientist, helping him with fieldwork, processing, microscope photography and analysis.
In December 2016, I visited my daughter in Vancouver, collecting 17 samples from nearby rivers and lakes. Back in the lab, and after “looking inside” the samples, we observed four potentially new species from the VanDusen Botanical Garden. Paul took more light microscopy photos and scanning electron microscopy images. Several months later, the botanical garden sent a live sample for DNA extraction. After further analyses, Paul co-authored a paper describing the new species, which you can read here.
The new species all belonged to the genus Neidium and were named: 1) N. vandusenense, for the VanDusen Botanical Garden; 2) N. collare, from the Latin for “neck band”; 3) N. lavoieanum, honouring scientist Dr. Isabelle Lavoie; and 4) N. beatyi, honouring the Beaty Foundation, generous supporters of the Museum.
Finally, a fifth species was recently discovered from Gibson Lake in northwestern Renfrew County, Ontario by Andréanne Bouchard, a graduate student at the University of Ottawa. After extensive verification, she co-authored a paper with Paul, describing the new species as Frustulia gibsonea.
Finding multiple new species in one sample is exciting and rare. As diatom researchers continue to collect fresh and marine water samples from across Canada and around the world, new diatom species will no doubt be discovered.