Development and Evaluation of Multi-Scale Mechanistic Indicators of Regional Landscapes

EPA Grant Number: R825870
Title: Development and Evaluation of Multi-Scale Mechanistic Indicators of Regional Landscapes
Investigators: Richards, Carl , Host, George E. , Johnson, Lucinda
Institution: University of Minnesota - Duluth
Current Institution: University of Minnesota - Duluth , Natural Resources Research Institute
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: December 1, 1997 through November 30, 2000
Project Amount: $925,000
RFA: Ecosystem Indicators (1997) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Aquatic Ecosystems


Effective ecological monitoring requires specific knowledge of the target ecosystem and the factors that regulate ecosystem's dynamics. Indicators that accurately characterize ecosystem integrity must integrate those aspects of landscapes that influence the movement of energy, materials and organisms within and between ecosystems, the local availability of nutrients and other resources, the structure of biological communities, and the composition and juxtaposition of ecosystem elements. Investigators propose to develop suites of ecological indicators that cross spatial scales, mechanistically reflect ecosystem states and processes, are statistically robust, and are applicable across regional landscapes. In addition, these indicators will be based on readily-accessible information available in a real-time framework. To accomplish this, the investigators propose the following objectives:
  • Develop predictive models which integrate landscape-scale factors with reach-scale physical and chemical stream attributes to i) quantify key compositional and structural attributes of stream biota, and ii) derive ecosystem indicators at multiple spatial scales
  • Evaluate the appropriate scale of terrestrial and aquatic data necessary to resolve regional and local aquatic resource questions.
  • Improve on the ability to distinguish and quantify natural variation in indicators from that derived from anthropogenic stressors.
  • Assess the extent to which regional and local-scale indices (including standard indices of ecological integrity, e.g., IBI) reflect fundamental ecosystem processes and structural properties of stream habitats and biota.
  • Quantify confidence limits and evaluate the geographic transferability of regional and local-scale indicators developed above.


To develop, evaluate, and integrate indicators across multiple spatial scales, investigators will employ a multi-tiered sampling and modeling strategy, integrating data collected at regional scales via satellite imagery, local scales via low-altitude imagery, and site scales via field sampling. These data will be used to identify indicators at each scale that reflect critical ecosystem process or state variables related to the integrity and sustainability of those ecosystems. Investigators will develop and test indicators representing fundamental driving variables and processes at multiple spatial scales, and integrate them into a system for identifying positive or negative trends in the health of ecosystems in regions heavily dominated by agriculture and mixed land uses.

Expected Results:

The results of this research will significantly increase the ability of practitioners to quantify features of terrestrial ecosystems in strongly altered landscapes. Models of processes that integrate features existing at different scales will be developed. Transferability of methods between ecoregions will be evaluated, and validity of statistical techniques will be assessed using existing databases. A rigorous analysis of the uncertainty associated with indices at all spatial scales, including natural stochasticity, measurement error, parameter error and model error will be performed. These estimates of statistical confidence will improve the utility of ecological indicators for local and regional assessments.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 39 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 1 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

water, watershed, stream, ecological effects, sensitive populations, stressor, cumulative effect, indicators, ecosystem, scaling, regionalization, terrestrial, aquatic, habitat, integrated assessment, macroinvertebrate, fish, primary production, coarse woody debris, nutrients, dissolved solids, suspended sediments, restoration, environmental assets, ecology, hydrology, geology, EMAP, modeling, analytical, surveys, measurement methods, satellite, Landsat, remote sensing, Midwest, EPA Region 5, agriculture, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Hydrology, Midwest, Nutrients, Ecology, Environmental Chemistry, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, Chemistry, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Geology, EPA Region, Ecological Indicators, agriculturally impacted watershed, aquatic ecosystem, nutrient supply, ecological exposure, EMAP, remote sensing, landscape indicator, satellite images, stressors, watersheds, ecosystem integrity, stream ecosystems, regional scale, soil, aquatic ecosystems, water quality, ecosystem stress, multiscale assessment, spatial and temporal patterns, Region 5, land use

Relevant Websites:

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 1998
  • 1999 Progress Report
  • Final Report