2004 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 , Brady, Valerie J , Brazner, John , Breneman, Dan , Ciborowski, Jan , Hrabik, Thomas , Kelly, John R. , Morrice, John , Richards, Carl , Scharold, Jill , Sierszen, Michael , Tanner, Dan , Trebitz, Anett , Yurista, Peder
Current Investigators: Johnson, Lucinda , Brady, Valerie J , Breneman, Dan , Ciborowski, Jan , Hrabik, Thomas , Kelly, John R. , Morrice, John , Richards, Carl , Scharold, Jill , Schuldt, Jeffrey A. , Sierszen, Michael , Tanner, Dan , Trebitz, Anett , Yurista, Peder
Institution: University of Minnesota - Duluth , Center for Water and the Environment, Natural Resources Research Institute , Minnesota Sea Grant College Program , U.S. EPA Mid-Continent Ecology Division-Duluth , 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, 2003 through January 9, 2004
RFA: Environmental Indicators in the Estuarine Environment Research Program (2000) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Water , Ecosystems

Objective:

The objectives of this research project are to:

  1. evaluate the applicability of State of the Lakes Ecosystem Conference (SOLEC)-derived and complementary indicators in the context of the ecosystem types found in the Great Lakes coastal region;
  2. rigorously test the efficacy of a suite of indicators across the range of habitats within the Great Lakes coastal system;
  3. and recommend indicators of specific ecological conditions keyed to assessment endpoints and stressors in the Great Lakes coastal region.

To evaluate and integrate indicators across multiple spatial scales, we will employ a multi-tiered sampling and modeling strategy, integrating 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 process or state variables related to the integrity and sustainability of those ecosystems. We will 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 condition of ecosystems in coastal regions of the Great Lakes.

Progress Summary:

During Year 4 of the project, we performed invertebrate sample processing, data entry, data quality checks, theoretical development, data analysis, and data presentation. All fish data processing is complete and entries have been checked for data quality and accuracy. All 2002 invertebrate samples have been processed, and the data have been entered into the database and quality checked. All Chironomidae from benthic samples collected in 2002 have been mounted and approximately 25 percent have been identified. Most of the invertebrate samples collected in 2003 have been processed and the data entered into the database. Remaining samples should be completely processed by May 2005. Most of the 2003 invertebrate data have yet to undergo a final quality check.

The fish data have been used in numerous presentations, and the results are being presented in eight manuscripts. The invertebrate data have been used in several presentations, and four manuscripts are in preparation, most about invasive species. In total, fish and macroinvertebrate researchers have given 26 presentations this year, including 8 invited presentations and 6 presentations or seminars to special groups such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the general public. The other presentations were given at 11 scientific meetings. In total, the team is working on, or has completed, 15 manuscripts that use the data compiled to date.

The theoretical approaches that we have developed that stem from or relate to the overall philosophical considerations and study design of our project have attracted considerable attention from managing agencies at several levels of government in both Canada and the United States.

The Lake Erie Lakewide Area Management Plan (LaMP), as convened by the governments of Canada and the United States through the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, undertook a 4-year modeling and planning study to assess possible ecosystem states that could be attained by appropriate management practices. The results of a complex Fuzzy cognitive model determined that the biota comprising the ecosystem could achieve various alternative states dependent upon the values of six independent multivariate axes of environmental condition. Four of these axes correspond closely to the Great Lakes Environmental Indicators (GLEI) pressure axes derived from GIS-analysis of land use in second order watersheds. Accordingly, the Lake Erie LaMP has proposed to adopt these GLEI pressure axes as key elements of their environmental indicator program to assess the overall status of the lake. Plans are underway to crosswalk land use and stress data from Canadian databases so that they can be incorporated and scored within the GLEI stressor system and provide the first comprehensive land use indicator applicable to the entire Great Lake basin.

The International Joint Commission is an observer of LaMP activities. Accordingly, our research findings will be the topic of an invited presentation at a workshop on ecological integrity at the 2005 biennial meeting of the International Joint Commission. These findings, together with new collaborative work developing with members of the EPA Great Lakes National Program Office-sponsored Great Lakes Wetland Consortium will likely result in our leading a workshop on development of Great Lakes indicators at the 2006 binational SOLEC.

Investigators Lucinda Johnson and Jan Ciborowski have been actively involved with the EPA Office of Water in applying concepts developed by the GLEI approach to multiple stressors to create national guidelines for assessing, quantifying, and integrating multiple stress effects in wadeable streams. A document in preparation will ultimately provide guidance to the states and tribes on how to develop tiered aquatic life uses for assessing and reporting on the condition of all streams within their jurisdiction.

Testing a Fish Index of Biotic Integrity for Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands

Fish community composition is often segregated along ecoregions, lakes or hydrogeomorphic types. Attempts to develop an index of biotic integrity (IBI) for environmentally homogeneous sites at Great Lakes coastal margins have had only limited success. Of 14 measures of response to anthropogenic stress typically used to assess fish IBI in warmwater streams and at coastal margins, only 2 varied in the expected direction in wetlands of the lower Great Lakes and 5 varied as expected in the upper Great Lakes.

Recently, another research group lead by Donald Uzarski used correspondence analysis to determine that the primary driver in coastal wetland fish community composition is emergent plant zonation, independent of ecological province. Consequently, they developed an IBI for sites dominated by (i.e., > 50% cover) Typha (cattail) vegetation and a separate IBI for sites dominated by Scirpus (bulrush). We tested their IBIs by applying their metrics to data collected at GLEI sites. We calculated IBI scores using their method for 23 and 13 of the wetland sites with dominant Typha and Scirpus vegetation, respectively, that we had sampled in 2001-2003 using overnight sets of fyke nets. Our study design ensured that the sites fell across gradients of population density, road density, urban development, point source pollution, and agriculture measured using a GIS-based analysis of land use. Our analysis showed some striking patterns. Sites with low levels of disturbance (reference condition sites) had high IBI scores. The Typha-specific IBI was highly negatively correlated with the GLEI human population/ development gradient, whereas the Scirpus-specific IBI correlated most strongly with values of the agriculture and agricultural chemical stress and point source pollutant stress gradients.

As a further check, we used the geographic coordinates of the wetlands sampled by the Uzarski group to calculate their position and determined their stressor scores according to our stress axes. The combined plots of GLEI and Great Lakes Water Quality Wildlife Criterion (GLWC) data corresponded closely. The wetlands sampled by the GLEI project covered a broader range of stress than the GLWC sites, but the overall patterns of both data sets were remarkably consistent.

The most striking finding is that application of the combined data sets clearly indicates that the Scirpus and Typha IBIs responded to fundamentally different stressor gradients. The fish IBI developed for Scirpus changed only along an axis of agricultural development, with strong evidence of a threshold effect. In contrast the IBI developed by Uzarski’s group for Typha zones was insensitive to agriculture but changed strongly in response to urban development (i.e., population density and point source discharges).

The Uzarski IBI appears to be an effective indicator of some but not all classes of anthropogenic disturbance at Great Lakes coastal margins. Stressor data such as those collected by the GLEI project, however, are necessary to reveal that such indicators are stress-specific and to identify the classes of stress that regulate different indicator suites.

Quantifying the Scale of Fish Species Responses to Land Use in the Great Lakes

Species show a range of responses to environmental conditions, and the strength of those responses may vary with spatial scale. For example, a species may exhibit no response or a relatively consistent response to land cover across all scales. Alternatively, a species could respond weakly or strongly to a particular environmental cue at a particular spatial scale. A species that responds consistently across all spatial scales is an ideal candidate for an indicator; however, a more likely scenario is that the strength of responses will vary as the spatial scale changes. Species that exhibit either no response or a constant, unvarying response to varying land use extents at all scales would not be useful candidates as indicators of environmental conditions.

Some multi-scale studies have found that fish metrics correlate most strongly to land cover when measured at levels below the catchment scale. The apparent inconsistent response to land cover could result from the fact that IBIs lump many different species, each of which exhibits a characteristic scale of response to a stressor. Furthermore, IBI development and testing is typically calibrated against land use data measured at a single spatial scale. If the dominant species in the community each respond at different spatial scales, this would weaken the overall relationship between the stressor and the IBI metric. It also could lead to different results between studies if the dominant species making up the IBI differ across studies. This problem could be avoided by identifying the characteristic scale of response of the individual species to the environmental gradients.

We used the Focus program (www.carleton.ca/lands-ecol/whatisle.html) to determine the spatial scale at which fish species responded most strongly to variation in the extent of three land cover types: urban, agriculture, and forest. Focus performs repeated linear regressions or determines correlations between predictor and response variables (land cover and fish catch per unit effort abundance, respectively, in this example) using sets of spatially independent sites buffered at distances ranging from 0.5 km to 50 km. The strength of the correlation is assessed for each buffer width (hereafter referred to as spatial scale); a plot of response strength (correlation coefficient) versus spatial scale depicts how the relationship changes with spatial scale. The strength of the relationship between land cover and species abundance across spatial scales is measured using the Pearson product-moment correlation coefficient (r).

We found that most of the correlations above a threshold value of r = 0.25 reached their maximum at the larger spatial scales (see Figure 1). Three of the four species that responded most strongly (black buffalo, blackchin shiner, and tadpole madtom) showed strong positive correlations to amount of forest cover at 50 km and relatively strong negative correlations with amount of agricultural land cover at the larger spatial scales. Fewer species showed maximum responses at smaller spatial scales (see Table 1).

Wetland Invertebrate Indicator Development

Using data from 52 of 83 sampled wetlands, we found that the northern versus southern areas of the Great Lakes have significantly different wetland invertebrate assemblages. We are in the process of determining how much of this difference is the result of latitudinal (species range) variation and how much is the result of the differences in the amount of anthropogenic stress between the northern (less stressed) and southern (more stressed) Great Lakes. In addition, we found that invertebrate assemblages in riverine wetlands are significantly different from those in protected and open coastal wetlands. Although this is not an unexpected result because of the different habitats available among the wetland types, it means that we will have to ensure that invertebrate indicators developed for wetlands work in all types of Great Lakes wetlands. Ordination analysis of riverine wetlands in the northern Great Lakes indicated that invertebrate assemblage differences were most strongly correlated with differences in population density and amount of agriculture in the segment shed. Potential metrics derived from this ordination include proportion clingers and proportion scrapers as indicators of less impacted sites.

Scale of Responses to Land Use for the Green Sunfish. Maximum responses were observed at large spatial scales (30 to 50 km radius). Many fish species respond to land use at these large spatial scales.

Figure 1. Scale of Responses to Land Use for the Green Sunfish. Maximum responses were observed at large spatial scales (30 to 50 km radius). Many fish species respond to land use at these large spatial scales.

We hypothesize that many of the effects on aquatic invertebrates are indirect, with habitat being the intermediary between anthropogenic stress on the wetland and the effects that we are seeing in the invertebrates. For example, in northern open coastal wetlands there is a negative correlation between the proportion of row crop agriculture in the segment shed and the density of floating aquatic plants. In turn, the density of floating aquatic plants is correlated with invertebrate taxa richness, with fewer invertebrate types found in wetlands with less floating plants.

Table 1. Scale and Direction (positive/negative) of Maximum Responses to Land Use (URB = urban; AGR = agriculture; FOR = forest) for Fish Species in the Great Lakes. Species were filtered to remove exotics and species with confined geographic ranges. (From Holland, et al., in preparation.)

Fish Species

Scale Max URB

 

Scale Max AGR

 

Scale Max FOR

 

Black Buffalo, Ictiobus cypinellus (Rafinesque)

50

-

50

-

50

+

Blackchin Shiner, Notropis heterodon (Cope)

 

 

45

-

50

+

Bowfin, Amia calva L.

 

 

 

 

40

+

Brook Stickleback, Culaea inconstans (Kirtland)

 

 

 

 

35

+

Brown Bullhead, Ameriurus punctatus (Lesueur)

 

 

40

-

35

+

Burbot, Lota lota (L.)

 

 

40

-

10

+

Eastern Longnose sucker, Catostomus catostomus (Forster)

 

 

40

-

12

+

Emerald Shiner, Notropis atherinoides Rafinesque

 

 

45

-

 

 

Golden Shiner, Notemigonus crysoleucas (Mitchill)

 

 

 

 

50

+

Johnny Darter, Etheostoma nigrum Rafinesque

 

 

50

-

40

+

Lake Chub, Couesius plumbeus ( Agassiz)

 

 

30

-

5

+

Northern Pike, Esox lucius L.

 

 

 

 

50

+

Northern Rock Bass, Ambloplites rupestris (Rafinesque)

50

-

 

 

 

 

Sand Shiner, Notropis stramineus (Cope)

50

-

25

-

 

 

Tadpole Madtom, Noturus gyrinus (Mitchill)

 

 

 

 

50

+

White Sucker, Catostomus commersonii (Lacepede)

20

-

35

-

 

 

Future Activities:

We will complete the invertebrate sample processing, data entry, and data quality checks. Data analysis for indicator development, manuscript writing, and presentation of results to other researchers and indicator clients will be the work focus during Year 5 of the project. We expect that the indicator development frameworks that we have proposed will receive increasing acceptance and use by agencies and the academic community, leading to a rethinking of the relationships between human activity and associated environmental changes and, ultimately, more responsive policy-making and planning processes.


Journal Articles on this Report : 2 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other subproject views: All 36 publications 9 publications in selected types All 8 journal articles
Other center views: All 268 publications 54 publications in selected types All 45 journal articles
Type Citation Sub Project Document Sources
Journal Article Grigorovich IA, Mills EL, Richards CB, Breneman D, Ciborowski JJH. European valve snail Valvata piscinalis (Müller) in the Laurentian Great Lakes basin. Journal of Great Lakes Research 2005;31(2):135-143. R828675 (Final)
R828675C003 (2004)
R828675C003 (Final)
R828777 (2003)
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  • Journal Article Grigorovich IA, Kang M, Ciborowski JJH. Colonization of the Laurentian Great Lakes by the amphipod Gammarus tigrinus, a native of the North American Atlantic coast. Journal of Great Lakes Research 2005;31(3):333-342. R828675 (Final)
    R828675C003 (2004)
    R828675C003 (Final)
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  • Abstract: ScienceDirect-Abstract
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  • Supplemental Keywords:

    Great Lakes, coastal wetlands, environmental indicators, community, fish, macroinvertebrate, high energy shorelines, embayment, coastal, ecological indicators, stress, water, contaminants, vegetation, wetlands, monitoring, water quality, aquatic ecosystem,, 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, coastal ecosystem, diatoms, ecological condition, aquatic ecosystem, hydrological stability, nutrient supply, nutrient transport, fish, ecosystem assessment, hierarchically structured indicators, wetland vegetation, environmental stressor, hydrological, macroinvertebrates, coastal environments, environmental consequences, ecological assessment, ecosystem indicators, estuarine ecosystems, nutrient stress, aquatic ecosystems, toxic environmental contaminants, water quality, ecosystem stress

    Relevant Websites:

    http://glei.nrri.umn.edu Exit
    http://www.carleton.ca/lands-ecol/whatisle.html Exit

    Progress and Final Reports:

    Original Abstract
  • 2001
  • 2002 Progress Report
  • 2003 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