2003 Progress Report: Testing Indicators of Coastal Ecosystem Integrity Using Fish and Macroinvertebrates

EPA Grant Number: R828675C003
Subproject: this is subproject number 003 , established and managed by the Center Director under grant R828675
(EPA does not fund or establish subprojects; EPA awards and manages the overall grant for this center).

Center: EAGLES - Great Lakes Environmental Indicators Project
Center Director: Niemi, Gerald J.
Title: Testing Indicators of Coastal Ecosystem Integrity Using Fish and Macroinvertebrates
Investigators: Johnson, Lucinda , Richards, Carl , Schuldt, Jeffrey A. , Brady, Valerie J , Kelly, John R. , Trebitz, Anett , Breneman, Dan , Tanner, Dan , Ciborowski, Jan , Scharold, Jill , Morrice, John , Brazner, John , Sierszen, Michael , Yurista, Peder , Hrabik, Thomas
Current Investigators: Johnson, Lucinda , Richards, Carl , Schuldt, Jeffrey A. , Brady, Valerie J , Kelly, John R. , Trebitz, Anett , Breneman, Dan , Tanner, Dan , Ciborowski, Jan , Scharold, Jill , Morrice, John , Sierszen, Michael , Yurista, Peder , Hrabik, Thomas
Institution: University of Minnesota , U.S. Environmental Protection Agency , University of Windsor
Current Institution: University of Minnesota , Minnesota Sea Grant College Program , U.S. Environmental Protection Agency , University of Windsor , University of Wisconsin - Green Bay
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: January 10, 2001 through January 9, 2005 (Extended to January 9, 2006)
Project Period Covered by this Report: January 10, 2002 through January 9, 2003
RFA: Environmental Indicators in the Estuarine Environment Research Program (2000) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Water , Ecosystems


The objective of this subproject is to evaluate and integrate indicators across multiple spatial scales. We will employ a multitiered sampling and modeling strategy to integrate data collected at regional scales via satellite imagery, local scales, and site scales via field sampling. These data will be used to identify indicators at each scale that reflect critical ecosystem processes or state variables related to the integrity and sustainability of those ecosystems. We will test indicators representing fundamental processes at multiple spatial scales and integrate them into a procedure for identifying the health of Great Lakes coastal margins. The goals of our project are to: (1) evaluate the applicability of the State-of-the-Lakes Ecosystem Conference-derived and complementary indicators in the context of the ecosystem types making up the Great Lakes coastal region; (2) rigorously test the efficacy of a suite of indicators across the range of habitats that make up the Great Lakes coastal system; and (3) recommend indicators of specific ecological conditions keyed to assessment endpoints and stressors in the Great Lakes coastal region.

Progress Summary:

The combined sampling effort during the 2002 and 2003 field seasons has resulted in a total of 112 sites sampled at 101 unique locations across the basin. Fifteen sites sampled previously were revisited to quantify temporal variation (see Table 1). In addition, 56 reference condition sites were sampled (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] Grant R8386750) as part of a parallel study to define reference conditions in nearshore coastal waters of the Great Lakes. The 2003 field season was characterized by extremely low lake levels in Lakes Huron and Michigan; protected and coastal wetlands were impacted most severely, resulting in many rejected sites.

Table 1. Sites Sampled for GLEI and Reference Condition Projects, 2002-2003

Sites Sampled for GLEI and Reference Condition Projects, 2002-2003

More than 4,000 benthic samples were collected in 2002-2003 at the combined Great Lakes Environmental Indicators (GLEI) and reference condition project sites. Approximately 1,100 fyke net sets (of 24-hour duration) were fished, resulting in over 103,000 fish captured; 108 fish taxa were identified. Habitat data were recorded from more than 1,800 benthos points, 800 net locations, and about 2,000 habitat points. Water quality was measured at approximately 2,000 locations.

To date, we have completed data entry and have quality controlled approximately 100 percent of the 2002 and 2003 fish data; 100 percent of the habitat data have been entered and quality control is ongoing. All benthic samples collected in 2002 have been processed, and with the exception of Chironomidae (Diptera) larvae, all other taxa have been identified to the lowest practical taxonomic unit. Final verification and validation of suspect materials is about one-third complete. Approximately 25 percent of benthic samples from 2003 have been processed. Analysis of sediment for organic content and particle size distribution is approximately 90 percent complete.

Activities this winter include analysis of fish and habitat data and sediment and benthic sample processing. We also are assessing different methods for identifying reference conditions and comparing the multimetric and multivariate approaches to indicator development. Issues to address for the multimetric approach are to: (1) finalize the list of metrics to test; (2) quantify the variance structure for individual metrics (Fore, 2003); (3) quantify metric responses to human disturbance gradients (HDG); (4) test signal-to-noise ratio (Kaufmann, et al.,1999) for fish, invertebrate, and habitat metrics; (5) test metrics for: a) biological relevance, b) range of values, c) consistency of response to HDG, d) uniqueness of response (relative to other metrics), e) reliability, and f) cost to acquire and process data; and (6) develop and test a set of integrated metrics (i.e., fish, habitat, invertebrates, and water quality) using the approach of Wiley, et al. (2003); assess above for integrated metrics.

Results to Date

Distribution of Invading Species—Aquatic Invertebrates.Our extensive, basin-wide sampling program has been particularly effective in permitting us to delineate the spatial extent, relative dominance, and associations among nonindigenous invading species, especially invertebrates. For example, work by GLEI research student MiSun Kang (M.S., 2003) demonstrated that an invading amphipod species, Echinogammarus, has only been found where exotic zebra mussels have colonized previously. This association suggests that the invasion of one exotic species is entirely dependent on the presence of a previous invader. This species-level indicator also provides clues on the concern for declining populations of Gammarus, the native amphipod in the Great Lakes which is critical to fish populations. MiSun has begun a Ph.D. program designed to investigate the effects of establishment order on the invasion success of subsequent new species.

A small population of the Asiatic clam, Corbicula, has been found in Saginaw Bay, a first record of occurrence in the upper Great Lakes. Gammarus tigrinum, native to the Atlantic coast, has also been identified at a site on Lake Huron—another first record in the Great Lakes. This species has invaded extensively many locations in Europe. New records of several species of snails also have been found throughout the Great Lakes, many likely native species, but previously unknown in the region. The sampling framework and resulting inventory of many taxa in the GLEI Project have added to the knowledge of the biota immensely and will result in further linkages among multiple stressors in the coastal region.

Fish Community Distributions. Preliminary analyses of 2002 and 2003 fish data confirm our hypothesis that high energy shorelines have significantly different fish communities than are found in Great Lakes wetlands and embayments (multiresponse permutation parameter, p < 0.0001). Nonmetric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) ordination analysis of the high energy sites also indicated that the types of stressors influencing the northern sites were quite different from those influencing the southern sites, which confirmed another of our hypotheses. For example, community differences among southern sites were strongly correlated with the stressors of phosphorus fertilizer, row crop agriculture, number of pollution point sources, amount of disturbed land use, and stream sedimentation. Northern sites had greater taxonomic richness of piscivores, a potential indicator for high energy sites.

NMDS and Multiresponse Permutation Procedure analyses showed a clear separation between northern and southern sites (p < 0.0001) for wetland and embayment sites, as well as high energy sites. Consequently, the northern and southern sites were analyzed separately. For both data sets, sites grouped by exposure. The more open types (embayments and fringing coastal wetlands) grouped somewhat distinctly from more protected site types (protected and riverine coastal wetlands). There were also some distinct fish community characteristics within each lake (p = 0.05). Although stressors at the landscape level did not show strong correlations with the ordination axes, several potential fish indicators were identified for further analysis (taxa richness and proportional abundance of exotic species, proportional abundance of small-bodied fish proportional abundance of medium-bodied fish, taxa richness of large-bodied fish, proportional abundance of larval and juvenile zoobenthivores, taxa richness of juvenile zoobenthivores, and taxa richness of larval phytoplanktivores).

Fish Community Responses. Preliminary analyses show that fish community data collected independently by GLEI and EPA exhibited similar response trends with respect to stressors across ecoprovinces. In general, Province 212 has smaller numbers of exotic species and more native species and individuals whereas piscivore richness was greater (see Table 2). This pattern was reversed in Province 222. Spearman rank correlations with selected stressors indicate that in Province 212 the main stressors influencing fish communities are related to human population and urban development features (see Table 3). In contrast, stressors related to agricultural activities are correlated most highly with fish metrics in the southern ecoprovince.

Table 2. Summary Statistics for Fish Data Sampled Via Electrofishing and Fyke Nets at Wetland and Embayment Locations

Summary Statistics for Fish Data Sampled Via Electrofishing and Fyke Nets at Wetland and Embayment Locations

Table 3. Spearman Rank Correlations Between Normalized Fish Metrics (Wiley, et al., 2003) and a Subset of Stressors. Metrics were normalized using the standard deviation of the metric from reference sites. (Only correlation coefficients > 0.5 are shown.)

Spearman Rank Correlations Between Normalized Fish Metrics

Future Activities:

This summer, we will have a limited sampling effort to finish up a few sites where weather created sampling problems last year. Most of our effort will focus on finishing the macroinvertebrate sample processing, data entry and QA, and data analyses for indicator development and testing. We will be working on several manuscripts and will be giving a number of presentations at scientific meetings.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 36 publications for this subproject

Supplemental Keywords:

Great Lakes, coastal wetlands, environmental indicators, fish, macroinvertebrate, high energy shorelines, embayment,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT, Geographic Area, Water, ECOSYSTEMS, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Nutrients, exploratory research environmental biology, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological Monitoring, Ecological Risk Assessment, Ecology and Ecosystems, Great Lakes, Ecological Indicators, Risk Assessment, ecological condition, nutrient supply, coastal ecosystem, nutrient transport, aquatic ecosystem, diatoms, hydrological stability, ecosystem assessment, fish, hierarchically structured indicators, wetland vegetation, environmental stressor, hydrological, coastal environments, environmental consequences, macroinvertebrates, ecological assessment, estuarine ecosystems, nutrient stress, ecosystem indicators, aquatic ecosystems, toxic environmental contaminants, water quality, ecosystem stress

Relevant Websites:

http://glei.nrri.umn.edu Exit

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2001
  • 2002 Progress Report
  • 2004 Progress Report
  • Final Report

  • Main Center Abstract and Reports:

    R828675    EAGLES - Great Lakes Environmental Indicators Project

    Subprojects under this Center: (EPA does not fund or establish subprojects; EPA awards and manages the overall grant for this center).
    R828675C001 Great Lakes Diatom and Water Quality Indicators
    R828675C002 Vegetative Indicators of Condition, Integrity, and Sustainability of Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands
    R828675C003 Testing Indicators of Coastal Ecosystem Integrity Using Fish and Macroinvertebrates
    R828675C004 Development and Assessment of Environmental Indicators Based on Birds and Amphibians in the Great Lakes Basin
    R828675C005 Development and Evaluation of Chemical Indicators for Monitoring Ecological Risk