I currently have the fun and exciting role of serving as chair of the Society for Freshwater Science’s Diatom Taxonomic Certification Committee. The biggest motivation for this group is to develop a program that helps federal and state resource managers in the US obtain diatom data that are accurate, consistent, and reliable for use in biological assessments. While creating certification exams is a key part of our mission, our work doesn’t stop there! We realized that we have an opportunity to develop a program that supports and provides training, communication, and community-building among diverse groups of people interested in studying diatoms and applying diatom data to protect our important aquatic resources. All of these efforts together have the potential to advance the field of diatom research. With better data and better sharing of information, we should expect to make more discoveries about diatom taxonomy, biology, ecology, and better ways to apply diatom data to management decisions. We can make sure that diatoms are widely regarded as the powerful environmental indicators that many of us already know they are.

To make information about diatoms as accessible as possible, the committee recently launched the Diatom Web Academy. The Web Academy is free and open to all. It will be a community-driven series of webinars addressing topics of interest about the study and application of diatoms to environmental science and management. All of the webinars will be recorded. Our first webinar was on February 12, 2020, hosted by Dr. Sarah Spaulding. About 106+ people participated in the webinar from several countries. After the webinar, we requested feedback about the topics we should cover next. Out of about 80 people who responded, about 35% of respondents described themselves as resource managers (broadly defined to include environmental scientists at state and federal agencies, as well as water utility managers). We also had good representation by graduate students, professional analysts, postdoctoral researchers, and professors (Figure 1).

Figure 1. How respondents identified themselves.

We requested feedback on 11 topics we thought would be of interest to Web Academy participants, to help us prioritize our work developing the webinar series. The most common “high interest” response was “What can I do with diatom data?” (Figure 2).

Figure 2. Summary of responses about the most popular topic for the next webinar in the Diatom Web Academy (O/E = observed over expected).

We have already started working on the next webinar, scheduled for mid-March and hosted by Dr. R. Jan Stevenson. We knew there could be other topics we have not thought about yet. We thought we could get some interesting ideas from you, and we were not disappointed! Here is a list of some of the suggested topics:

  1. Ancient sediment DNA and diatoms
  2. Diatoms and PFAS (Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), any correlations or relationships?
  3. Diatom community ecology and food web analysis
  4. Paleoceanography, turnover of species at geologic time scales
  5. Marine taxonomy, past and present
  6. The genus Gomphonema, and allies (this was a popular suggestion!)
  7. The genus Eunotia
  8. How to take samples from different environments
  9. The current state of genomics/transcriptomics/metabolomics in diatoms
  10. Physiology, phenotypic plasticity, industrial applications
  11. Culturing and curation of diatoms in museums
  12. What can influence the preservation of diatoms?
  13. Presentation and communication of diatom data to a mixed audience
  14. How to enter a diatom into DONA (Diatoms of North America)?
  15. Diatom biogeography: do macroecological rules apply to microbes?
  16. Diatoms in wetlands
  17. Resources for people studying diatoms outside of North America
  18. How to ID/enumerate/report species complexes (e.g. Gomphonema pumilum)

At some point in the future, we hope to cover many of these topics. If you have interest in leading a webinar on your area of expertise, don’t hesitate to volunteer! For example, we had several requests for a webinar on marine diatoms, but we are currently lacking a marine diatom expert on our team. To volunteer, ask questions, or to get added to the Diatom Web Academy email list, send a message to diatomtcc@gmail.com. You can find links to all the webinar recordings on Diatoms of North America: https://diatoms.org/news/diatom-web-academy

BONUS: Check out Euan Reavie’s webinar, “Early warnings from tiny things in the Great Lakes


Sylvia is a scientist working at the US Environmental Protection Agency. Email Sylvia or leave a message below if you have any questions about the Diatom Web Academy. You can also contact her via Twitter (@DrDiatomLee).