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Four laboratory experiments on fresh, modern diatoms collected from lakes in the Northern Great Plains of North America were carried out to assess the effects of dissolution on diatom abundance and composition. Marked differences in mean dissolution susceptibility exist between species, despite sometimes significant intra- specific variation between heterovalves. Twenty-four taxa were ranked according to susceptibility to dissolution using an exponential decay model of valve abundance. This dissolution ranking was used to derive two weighted indices of sample preservation. A third index (F) was based on a simple binary classification of valve morphology into dissolved and pristine categories, as distinguished by light microscopy (LM). When compared against rank indices and a measure of species diversity, this diatom dissolution index was found to be the best predictor of the progress of dissolution as estimated by total valve abundance or biogenic silica (BiSi) loss. Strong empirical relationships between F index values and diatom abundance (r2 = 0.84, n = 32) and BiSi (r2 = 0.89, n = 32) were developed and applied to a diatom sequence from a short core from Devils Lake, North Dakota, and compared to diatom-inferred and observed salinity at this site. The F index is a simple, effective diagnostic tool to assess important aspects of diatom preservation. The index can provide insight into Si cycling and record changes in conditions pertinent to diatom dissolution, and has a role in validation of transfer functions or other inferences derived from compositional data.