Landscape Connectivity of Headwater Stream Systems as a Measure of the Cumulative Impacts of Stream Burial During Urbanization

EPA Grant Number: FP917372
Title: Landscape Connectivity of Headwater Stream Systems as a Measure of the Cumulative Impacts of Stream Burial During Urbanization
Investigators: Weitzell, Roy E
Institution: University of Maryland - College Park
EPA Project Officer: Lee, Sonja
Project Period: August 1, 2011 through July 31, 2014
Project Amount: $126,000
RFA: STAR Graduate Fellowships (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Academic Fellowships , Fellowship - Ecosystem Services: Aquatic Systems Ecology


Landscape changes that reduce habitat area and restrict the dispersal abilities of organisms between habitat patches have a strong influence on biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. With urbanization continuing at a rapid pace across the Potomac River Basin (PRB), many streams are at risk of being buried, presenting serious implications for water quality and regional biodiversity. Knowledge of the cumulative impacts of reduced structure and function within buried stream networks is crucial for informing management of stream ecosystems in light of continued growth in urban areas and the uncertain response of freshwater ecosystems to the stresses of global climate change.


New developments in Geographic Information Science (GIS) and remote sensing-based methodologies allow for accurate measure of the former extent of headwater streams and the severity of burial across large areas. These data can be coupled with existing techniques for modeling landscape connectivity within and between aquatic networks impacted by urbanization, and to quantify how burial may alter the potential flow of organisms and materials. In turn, models of network connectivity can be considered in light of long-term biological and environmental datasets to quantify the ecosystem effects of stream burial at multiple spatial scales.

Expected Results:

This research will quantify stream burial totals for the Potomac River Basin (PRB) at four previous time steps, and assess burial patterns relative to other measures of urban effects on stream ecosystems (e.g., total imperviousness). This work will establish an understanding of the range in stream burial relative to these more traditional measures of the impact of urbanization (i.e., where does stream burial occur less frequently at the same level of TI). Secondly, landscape connectivity measures will provide valuable information on the cumulative effects of stream burial on between-habitat dispersal in headwater stream ecosystems, both within the channel networks themselves, as well as across the upland landscape. Finally, maps of headwater stream burial and connectivity will be used to determine how urbanization has altered patterns of biodiversity, including the distribution of headwater macroinvertebrates, organisms that play critical roles in ecosystem dynamics affecting local and downstream waters such as the Chesapeake Bay.

Potential to Further Environmental/ Human Health Protection

This project will provide three integrated spatial products to be used in regional conservation and management of headwater stream systems and the ecosystem services they provide. Taken together, analyses of fragmentation of headwater systems will provide critical information on cumulative impacts of buried streams necessary for monitoring and regulating development pressures on aquatic resources.

Supplemental Keywords:

headwater streams, stream burial, cumulative impact, urbanization, connectivity, beta-diversity

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2012
  • 2013
  • Final