Ecological Indicators for Large River-Floodplain Landscapes

EPA Grant Number: R826600
Title: Ecological Indicators for Large River-Floodplain Landscapes
Investigators: Turner, Monica G. , Dixon, Mark A. , Gergel, Sarah E. , Stanley, Emily H.
Current Investigators: Turner, Monica G. , Stanley, Emily H.
Institution: University of Wisconsin Madison
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: October 1, 1998 through September 30, 2001 (Extended to September 30, 2002)
Project Amount: $677,351
RFA: Ecological Indicators (1998) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecosystems , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration


Identifying landscape indicators that are well correlated with specific aspects of ecological function is a crucial research need requiring an integrated approach that combines landscape monitoring with field studies. Large river-floodplain systems are among the most diverse and dynamic landscapes, providing many important societal values; these systems also have been subject to a variety of anthropogenic stresses primarily due to river flow modification and land use change. Despite the importance to society of maintaining the integrity of large river-floodplain landscapes, relatively little effort has been devoted to development and testing of landscape indicators for these systems. We propose to develop and test ecological indicators (population, community, ecosystem and landscape) for large river-floodplain landscapes along reaches of the Wisconsin River. The Wisconsin is ideally suited for this study because it encompasses a wide range of anthropogenic modifications typical among many large river systems. We will address two main questions:


1. Which landscape metrics are most useful for monitoring population, community and ecosystem processes in large river-floodplain landscapes? Spatially extensive field sampling will be combined with landscape analysis in six reaches of the Wisconsin River sampling to quantify the ability of landscape indicators to predict ecological variables over broad scales. Landscape indicators will be evaluated by their utility for detecting changes in the structure and function of the Wisconsin River floodplain landscape resulting from modification of the natural flow regime, historical land use, and current land-use patterns. We will evaluate how well population, community and ecosystem responses can be predicted based on landscape metrics alone versus these metrics used in concert with field measurements. Landscape metrics should work well if within-habitat variability is less than between- habitat variability. In addition, a minimum set of indicators for the condition of particular ecological resources and for the overall river-floodplain landscape will be identified, and the statistical confidence of relationships among landscape indicators and assessment endpoints will be quantified.

2. What are the constraints on extrapolating relationships between landscape metrics and ecological processes in large river-floodplain landscapes? We will use field data, landscape analysis and simulation modeling to evaluate the constraints on spatial and temporal extrapolation of landscape indicators in three ways. First, population, community and ecosystem indicators will be predicted for the Wisconsin River floodplain landscape based on landscape indicators and field tested in new study landscapes. Second, we will determine whether there are thresholds in landscape pattern beyond which ecological processes change qualitatively; many ecological relationships are nonlinear, and the existence of thresholds might constrain extrapolation to conditions below or above the threshold. Third, the sensitivity of ecological indicators to landscape changes will influence our ability to detect changes in ecological processes. Simulation modeling will be used to determine how much the landscape must change to be detected by a given indicator.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 57 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 15 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

water, land, ecological effects, regionalization, scaling, ecology, remote sensing, Midwest,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, exploratory research environmental biology, State, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Ecology and Ecosystems, Ecological Risk Assessment, Ecological Indicators, ecological exposure, landscapes, anthropogenic stresses, habitat, remote sensing, landscape indicator, Midwestern U.S., large river floodplain landscapes, Wisconsin (WI)

Relevant Websites:


Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1999 Progress Report
  • 2000 Progress Report
  • 2001 Progress Report
  • Final Report