The goal of this research collaboration was to develop indicators that both estimate
environmental condition and suggest plausible causes of ecosystem degradation in the coastal
region of the U.S. Great Lakes. The collaboration consisted of 8 broad components, each of
which generated different types of environmental responses and characteristics of the coastal
region. These indicators included biotic communities of amphibians, birds, diatoms, fish,
macroinvertebrates, and wetland plants as well as indicators of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon
(P AH) photo-induced toxicity and landscape characterization. These components are
summarized below and discussed in more detailed in 5 separate reports (Section II).
Stress gradients within the U.S. Great Lakes coastal region were defined from 207 variables
(e.g., agriculture, atmospheric deposition, land use/land cover, human populations, point source
pollution, and shoreline modification) from 19 different data sources that were publicly available
for the coastal region. Biotic communities along these gradients were sampled with a stratified,
random design among representative ecosystems within the coastal zone. To achieve the
sampling across this massive area, the coastal region was subdivided into 2 major ecological
provinces and further subdivided into 762 segment sheds. Stress gradients were defined for the
major categories of human-induced disturbance in the coastal region and an overall stress index
was calculated which represented a combination of all the stress gradients.
Investigators of this collaboration have had extensive interactions with the Great Lakes
community. For instance, the Lake Erie Lakewide Area Management Plan (LAMP) has adopted
many of the stressor measures as integral indicators of the condition of watersheds tributary to
Lake Erie. Furthermore, the conceptual approach and applications for development of a
generalized stressor gradient have been incorporated into a document defining the tiered aquatic
life criteria for defining biological integrity of the nation's waters.
A total of 14 indicators of the U.S. Great Lakes coastal region are presented for potential
application. Each indicator is summarized with respect to its use, methodology, spatial context,
and diagnosis capability. In general, the results indicate that stress related to agricultural activity
and human population density/development had the largest impacts on the biotic community
indicators. In contrast, the photoinduced P AH indicator was primarily related to industrial
activity in the U.S. Great Lakes, and over half of the sites sampled were potentially at risk of
P AH toxicity to larval fish. One of the indicators developed for land use/land change was
developed from Landsat imagery for the entire U.S. Great Lakes basin and for the period from
1992 to 2001. This indicator quantified the extensive conversions of both agricultural and forest
land to residential area that has occurred during a short 9 year period.
Considerable variation in the responses were manifest at different spatial scales and many at
surprisingly large scales. Significant advances were made with respect to development of
methods for identifying and testing environmental indicators. In addition, many indicators and
concepts developed from this project are being incorporated into management plans and U.S.
EPA methods documents.
U.S. EPA STAR Cooperative Agreement Number: R-828675
Niemi, Gerald J; Axler, Richard P; Brady, Valerie; Brazner, John; Brown, Terry; Ciborowski, Jan H; Danz, Nicholas P; Hanowski, JoAnn M; Hollenhorst, Thomas; Howe, Robert; Johnson, Lucinda B; Johnston, Carol A; Reavie, Euan D; Simcik, Matthew; Swackhamer, Deborah L..
Environmental Indicators for the US. Great Lakes Coastal Region.
University of Minnesota Duluth.
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