Coastal Wetlands Investigations

The Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands Consortium has administered a number of investigations that seek to add knowledge and further the understanding of coastal wetlands dynamics. All projects were designed to address specific elements of a monitoring program design. All projects were competitively bid and peer-reviewed to assure a high level of quality and alignment with Consortium goals.

Investigations were undertaken in the following five areas:

  • Pilot Studies
  • Coastal Wetlands Inventory
  • Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) Development
  • Landscape-scale Techniques
  • Contaminant Surrogates

Pilot Studies

Six pilot studies were undertaken that provided broad investigation into techniques that can be developed into a Great Lakes coastal wetlands monitoring strategy. The purpose of this work was to test the usefulness and applicability of various methods and metrics across the basin in a collaborative fashion. Project field work took place in over 30 wetland sites distributed across the Great Lakes basin. Information was collected and analyzed on the Consortium’s indicators which include biological, physical, chemical, and landscape measures. The data were be centrally compiled at the end of project work so that cross-site comparisons could be done.

A summary document, Assessment of 2002 Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands Indicator Data, compiles the results of the six teams of investigators and evaluates the degree to which each of the indicators can be used to diagnose wetlands status across the basin. Each indicator was evaluated in terms of: cost, measurability, basin-wide applicability of sampling by wetland type, availability of complementary existing research or data, indicator sensitivity to wetland condition changes, and ability to set endpoint or attainment levels. Three combinations of indicators were recommended based on cost, time, and sensitivity optimization.

The brief descriptions below provide the scope of each of the six funded projects.

  1. Principle Investigator: Mark Bain, Cornell University
    This project examined all Consortium indicators across wetlands of two types in the Lake Ontario basin. The work builds on concurrent study under the Biocomplexity Project.
    View project proposal   |   View project report
  2. Principle Investigator: Ferenc de Szalay, Kent State University
    A diverse team of scientists from two universities and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History examined biological indicators on six wetlands (including two different classifications) in the Lake Erie basin.
    View project proposal  |  View project report 
  3. Principle Investigator: Joel Ingram, Environment Canada
    A collaborative team from the Canadian Wildlife Service examined indicators across 12 wetlands of two types on the Canadian side of the Lake Ontario basin.
    View project proposal  |  View project report
  4. Principle Investigator: Steve Timmermans, Bird Studies Canada
    The team from Bird Studies Canada coordinated the collection of bird and amphibian data for all teams in the study and conducted a basinwide analysis of this data. The possibility of developing indices of biotic integrity (IBIs) for birds and amphibians has also been examined. Additionally, this team has conducted site-specific analyses of the full range of indicators at a wetland site in the Lake Erie basin.
    View project proposal  |  View project report
  5. Principle Investigator: Don Uzarski, Grand Valley State University
    A collaborative team from Grand Valley State University and Michigan State University evaluated a broad range of indicators at numerous sites in the Lake Michigan and Lake Huron basins. They also built on previous work and refined the development of IBIs for plants and invertebrates.
    View project proposal View project report  |   View report figures
    View report tables  |  View appendix 1 tables & figures  |  View appendix 1 table 7
  6. Principle Investigator: Doug Wilcox, U.S. Geological Survey, Great Lakes Science Center
    This team conducted a thorough examination of all Consortium indicators at a protected embayment of Arcadia Lake, which is in the Lake Michigan basin.
    View project proposal  |  View project report

Study Indicators and Metrics  provides detailed information on the Consortium’s pre-selected set of indicators that are being validated for implementation within a long-term Great Lakes coastal wetlands monitoring strategy.

IBI Development

Following the field investigations in the first year of the Consortium, the PMT determined that additional analysis to develop IBIs for different taxa was warranted. Three teams compiled data from all six pilot studies, supplemented this with additional data from their own previous work and conducted various analyses to determine which metrics could be combined into an effective IBI. The IBIs were then assessed for overall effectiveness in aligning with disturbance gradients based on land use and physical measures.

  1. Taxa: Wetland Plants
    Principle Investigator: Dennis Albert, Michigan Natural Features Inventory
    View project report
  2. Taxa: Fish and Macroinvertebrates
    Principle Investigator: Don Uzarski, Grand Valley State University
    View project report   |  View report figures  View report tables
    View figure and table captions   |  View Appendix B 
  3. Taxa: Wetland Birds and Amphibians
    Principle Investigator: Steve Timmermans, Bird Studies Canada
    View project report

Landscape-scale Techniques

A number of the indicators the Consortium is investigating require the regular collection of remote imagery and interpretation to delineate change in wetland area and vegetation along with changes in surrounding land use and habitat. Two separate investigations were sponsored by the Consortium to determine the viability of satellite and radar approaches.

  1. Remotely Monitoring Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands Using a Hybrid Radar and Multi-Spectral Sensor Approach
    Principle Investigator: Laura Bourgeau-Chavez, General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems
    View project report
  2. Using Landscape Metrics to Develop Indicators of Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Condition
    Principle Investigator: Ricardo Lopez, U.S. EPA, National Exposure Research Laboratory
    View project report

Contaminant Surrogates

Due to cost and extrapolation issues associated with direct monitoring of toxic contaminants in wetlands, the Consortium looked to methods that would better track bioaccumulation of contaminants in individual wetland sites. The most promising method — tracking contaminant levels in snapping turtle eggs — was investigated for its possible use in a coastal wetlands monitoring program as a surrogate for relative contaminant levels in individual wetlands. The report below documents the scientific validation of the method, assesses it across the six Consortium criteria and presents a plan for incorporating the method in a monitoring program.

  1. Snapping Turtle Eggs as an Indicator of Contaminant Exposure
    Principle Investigator: Kim Fernie, Environment Canada, Canadian Wildlife Service
    View project report

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