Diatoms are a taxonomically diverse and resilient group of algae found globally in most aquatic environments from fresh to marine where their environmental preferences are well-studied. However some diatoms, known as aerophilous forms, can also occur in extreme conditions (e.g. on soils, terrestrial plants such as mosses, grasses and tree trunks, walls, caves and on artificial substrates), if there is sufficient light and water for photosynthesis.
The environmental preferences (e.g. texture, moisture, pH & nutrients), habitat preferences and seasonal patterns in abundance and species assemblages for these aerophilous diatoms, along with other aerophilous algae (e.g. chyrosophytes, chlorophytes) are very poorly studied and a better knowledge of these would enhance our ability to use modern or sub-fossil assemblages from these contexts for environmental inference including forensic applications.
Using a micro-scale GIS approach algal populations, possibly including DNA analysis, will be mapped from a range of habitats to test if distinct algal communities can be identified at the micro-scale, and habitats (natural and artificial) will also be tracked seasonally to determine if algal communities demonstrate distinctive temporal patterns.
These studies can potentially significantly contribute to the development of an evidence base that is needed for the application of diatoms as trace evidence in forensic environmental reconstructions at different spatial and temporal scales.