Developing Effective Ecological Indicators for Watershed Analysis

EPA Grant Number: R827638
Title: Developing Effective Ecological Indicators for Watershed Analysis
Investigators: Patten, Duncan T. , Marcus, Andrew , Lawrence, Rick , Minshall, Wayne
Institution: Yellowstone Ecosystem Studies , Idaho State University
Current Institution: Idaho State University , Montana State University - Bozeman , University of Oregon
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: July 1, 1999 through June 30, 2002
Project Amount: $868,242
RFA: Ecological Indicators (1999) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Aquatic Ecosystems , Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration


Project Summary: The overriding purpose of the proposed three-year project is to develop improved indicators and innovative techniques for assessing and monitoring ecological integrity at the watershed level in the western United States.

Objectives: Specific objectives are to develop practical, scientifically valid indicators that (1) span multiple resource categories, (2) are relatively scale independent, (3) address different levels of biological organization, (4) can be rapidly and cost effectively monitored by remote sensing, and (5) are sensitive to a broad range of anthropogenic and natural environmental stressors.


The project approach is to focus on streams and riparian areas and develop indicators for these areas that reflect the ecological integrity of the associated watersheds. Due to "funnel effects," streams and riparian areas are the accumulation zones of environmental disturbances occurring in their watersheds. For example, streams and riparian zones are profoundly affected by eroded sediments fro;n logging operations' forest fires, and overgrazing. Monitoring of key indicators in these accumulation zones will provide an efficient, cost effective way to evaluate and monitor the ecological integrity and sustainability of the surrounding watersheds.

The project will focus on the upper Yellowstone River and its tributaries. This study area incorporates a broad range of environmental conditions?from relatively pristine in certain upper watersheds within Yellowstone National Park, to highly disturbed by forest fire and mining in other Park watersheds, and moderately to highly disturbed in the downstream stretches within Montana, which have been impacted by the effects of logging, stockraising, production agriculture, recreational home developments, and stream alteration.

Effective indicators will be identified, assessed, and validated. This process will involve integration of results from research at various scales, including (1) analysis of hyperspectral and traditional multispectral imagery from both aerial and satellite platforms; (2) surveys of stream morphology and riparian habitat; and (3) intensive site-specific stream sampling.

Remote sensing is the primary research methodology: All indicators chosen must be able to be monitored by remote sensing. This will enable these indicators to be used for rapid, cost effective ecological monitoring on the regional and local scale. Remote sensing techniques will be used by project researchers ~Oti! to help identity key ecological indicators in streams and riparian areas and to correlate these indicators with ecological disturbances in the surrounding watersheds. Field surveys will be used with remote sensing to assess indicators. Intensive stream sampling of macroinvertebrate communities will be used to validate the effectiveness of these indicators.

Expected Results:

Expected results include a set of effective ecological indicators and innovative techniques for efficient watershed-level analysis at various scales in the western United States. These indicators will assist scientists associated with EPA's Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP) in undertaking the planned integrated study of the western ecoregions (EPA Regions 8, 9, and 10) and other projected studies in EMAP's "State of the Region" series. More generally. project research will provide an innovative framework for assessment of watershed integrity elsewhere, and help meet EPA's pressing need for improved indicators for monitoring ecosystem integrity and sustainability.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 14 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 8 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Sediments, aquatic, habitat, integrated assessment, Northwest., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Hydrology, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, Northwest, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Environmental Monitoring, Ecological Risk Assessment, Ecology and Ecosystems, Ecological Indicators, ecological exposure, anthropogenic stresses, biological activity, remote sensing, scaling, logging, watersheds, sediment, stream ecosystems, survey, ecosystem indicators, recreational home development, multiscale assessment

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2000 Progress Report
  • 2001 Progress Report
  • Final Report