2001 Progress Report: Development, Testing, and Application of Ecological and Socioeconomic Indicators for Integrated Assessment of Aquatic Ecosystems of the Atlantic Slope in the Mid-Atlantic States

EPA Grant Number: R828684
Center: EAGLES - Atlantic Slope Consortium
Center Director: Brooks, Robert P.
Title: Development, Testing, and Application of Ecological and Socioeconomic Indicators for Integrated Assessment of Aquatic Ecosystems of the Atlantic Slope in the Mid-Atlantic States
Investigators: Brooks, Robert P. , Rheinhardt, Rick D. , Weller, Donald E. , Jordan, Thomas E. , Whigham, Dennis F. , Wardrop, Denice Heller , Gallegos, Charles L. , McElfish, James M. , Varnell, Lyle M. , Brinson, Mark M. , Marra, Peter P. , Shortle, James S. , Hines, Anson , Hershner, Carl , Nizeyimana, Egide , Thornton, Kent , Havens, Kirk , O'Conner, Robert
Current Investigators: Brooks, Robert P. , Bishop, Joseph A. , Wardrop, Denice Heller , Armstrong, Brian K. , Easterling, Mary M. , Hite, Jeremy T. , Rubbo, Jennifer , Thornton, Kent
Institution: Pennsylvania State University , Virginia Institute of Marine Science , Smithsonian Environmental Research Center , East Carolina University
Current Institution: Pennsylvania State University , FTN Associates, Ltd
EPA Project Officer: Packard, Benjamin H
Project Period: March 1, 2001 through February 1, 2005 (Extended to February 28, 2006)
Project Period Covered by this Report: March 1, 2001 through February 1, 2002
Project Amount: $6,000,000
RFA: Environmental Indicators in the Estuarine Environment Research Program (2000) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Ecological Indicators/Assessment/Restoration , Water , Aquatic Ecosystems

Objective:

The objective of this research project is to develop and test a set of indicators in freshwater and coastal systems that are ecologically appropriate, economically reasonable, and relevant to society. Specific objectives include: (1) developing and testing ecological and socioeconomic indicators of aquatic resource conditions; (2) constructing models that use environmental, geographic, and stressor data to predict indicator responses, and use of these models to link upstream watersheds and downstream estuaries; (3) developing large scale measures for characterizing landscape attributes and land-use patterns to serve as predictors of a range of environmental conditions; and (4) delivering a nested suite of indicators to managers, where the implications of aggregating models at various scales are considered, and for which reliability is known.

Progress Summary:

The majority of Year 1 of the Atlantic Slope Consortium Project (ASC) was spent refining the details of our sampling approaches, gathering and organizing information for our geographic information system (GIS), and building relationships among our geographically dispersed team members. One of our first steps was to define an appropriate and relevant unit of assessment and management that is applicable to palustrine, lacustrine, riverine, and estuarine systems alike. Such a unit within a coastal system can be denoted as an estuarine segment, composed of deepwater areas, vegetated and unvegetated shallows, tidal marshes and creeks, and the adjacent terrestrial habitats. An equivalent unit upstream of estuaries is a small watershed (14-digit hydrologic unit codes (HUC)). These areas typically are sized as tens to hundreds of km2, and encompass several stream or river reaches, adjacent riparian corridors, associated wetlands and waterbodies, and the contributing drainage basin.

Much attention has been given in Year 1 to selecting sampling methods for acquiring targeted data that has the potential to evolve into a reliable indicator. ASC members have discussed at length how the various independent elements will relate to each other as we compile them into a suite of interrelated indicators. These discussions have proved invaluable for maintaining cohesiveness among the investigators and the potential indicators.

Our 40-member project team has been organized into three multi-institutional working groups; two that focus on the two major components of aquatic ecosystems: estuaries and watersheds; and one that focuses on cross-cutting socioeconomics, now called human dimensions. In addition, the GIS Team is supporting all three working groups, and will provide the critically important applications of spatial linkages. Major accomplishments of these three working groups are presented below.

Watershed Working Group

Pennsylvania State University (PSU) is leading the effort by all wetland scientists in the ASC to develop a standard wetland classification system for the Mid-Atlantic Region that will facilitate comparisons among different field teams and across ecoregions. This work is designed to develop stratified indices of aquatic system conditions using potential optima for each of four possible mixes of landuse/landcover conditions in the Atlantic Slope Region. The approach follows the conceptual model used in wetland hydrogeomorphic (HGM) classifications. Data collection and model development currently is ongoing, and pilot studies were completed for watersheds in several ecoregions. This work will be pertinent to the overall assessment of aquatic ecosystems for the Atlantic Slope project.

Considerable effort was expended during Year 1 to gather and evaluate spatial information for the study area (e.g., land cover, physiographic regions, etc.). This information served as a basis for watershed classification, and the selection of watersheds for intensive study. This GIS-based information also will be used in developing landscape-level indicators. In addition, existing site-level data has been identified, compiled, and located spatially, including biological, physical habitat, and stream chemistry data collected by participating institutions, as well as other federal, state, and non-governmental organizations.

Investigators at the PSU Cooperative Wetlands Center (CWC) have worked with the GIS Team, and the Center for Statistical Ecology and Environmental Statistics, to develop a new and unique way of classifying watersheds based on patterns of land use among the various ecoregions featured in the project study area. This analysis will form the basis for selecting a subset of watersheds for intensive field data collection.

Data collection for the Piedmont and Coastal Plain Bird Community Indices (BCIs) was completed for 83 sites during 2001. This information will be used to calibrate new BCIs that can be used as indicators of condition across broad landscapes for these two ecoregions. An East Carolina University (ECU) graduate student will be examining the impact of beaver as a modifier of riparian areas.

Estuarine Working Group

Existing spatial data were used to identify more than 60 potential estuarine segments for intensive field-work in 2002 and 2003. All potential estuarine segments consisted of terrestrial ecosystems dominated by one of three land-use categories (agriculture, forested, urban-suburban), freshwater streams, riparian buffers, brackish wetlands, and open-water estuarine habitats. In addition to compiling land-use data, the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) identified other sources of existing data for each potential estuarine segment (e.g., water quality, benthic survey data, fish survey data, stream survey data). The process resulted in the selection of 31 estuarine segments and a plan for sampling in 2002 and 2003.

By April 2002, study sites were established in most of the estuarine segments, and sampling protocols and schedules were developed for birds, vegetation, stream Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI), estuarine animals (benthos and fish), and estuarine water quality. Nearly 60 stream sites within the estuarine segments already have been sampled for water chemistry, riparian and instream habitat condition, and macroinvertebrate assemblages. This effort is being coordinated with the Maryland Biological Stream Survey, which is part of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Work began on the development of an estuarine segment fisheries habitat index, by conducting an extensive literature review of fisheries indices developed for characterizing habitat and or stock conditions. In addition, an exhaustive search of databases in the Delaware Bay, Chesapeake Bay, and Albemarle-Pamlico Sound Regions was conducted for any and all useful fish stock, benthos, plankton, and water quality data sets. Preliminary analysis of this information was undertaken.

A conceptual model of aquatic system condition based on cumulative condition from headwaters to estuarine segments is under development. Literature reviews and correspondence with researchers in other regions (including other nations) currently is underway. The goal is to finalize a conceptual model by the end of 2002, and then undertake some testing using extant databases of fish stocks, benthic community indices, and water quality conditions.

We are exploring the use of hydrodynamic models of the Chesapeake Bay to index potential water quality conditions in selected estuarine segments. The approach involves use of a three dimensional hydrodynamic model to determine relative importance of various sources (fall line and open ocean boundary conditions) to the composition of water column constituents in selected segments. This work is based on a well-developed hydrodynamic and water quality modeling program, validated with the extent water quality monitoring data for the Chesapeake Bay.

A draft plan has been developed by ECU team members for assessing the condition of riparian corridors and wetlands for the estuarine segment portion of the project. Once refined, this plan also will be applied to small upstream watersheds.

Human Dimensions Working Group

Human Dimensions of Ecological Indicators. In the past year, a structured protocol was developed to examine the use of environmental indicators and the informational needs and preferences of environmental managers working for state agencies. The pretests of the resulting interview form revealed definite themes about desired characteristics of environmental indicators. These include scientific validity, relevance to regulatory mandates, realism for planning, flexibility, cost-effectiveness, usefulness for developing restoration strategies by linking conditions to stressors, and usefulness for capturing spatial and temporal trends. The interview form now is being administered to a sample of environmental managers throughout the Atlantic Slope Region. Additional interviews and mail surveys are planned with other stakeholders, such as environmental managers of large municipalities and counties, and watershed associations in the study area.

As part of this work, ELI has produced and revised a conceptual template identifying institutional decisionmakers in the Atlantic Slope Region. This template will be used in years 2-4 of the project to examine, in more detail, the users and potential users of the ecological indicators being developed by the project team. In addition, preliminary research has been completed on the legal and institutional authorities on land use regulation, coastal zones, environmental regulations, river basins, and metropolitan planning organizations in the Atlantic Slope Region.

Integrated Economic Value of Information Modeling. We are using model-based simulation experiments to explore the value of indicators in environmental management. The primary insights we expect to gain involve the relative values of alternative types of information, such as information on the responses of stressors to remediation activities, the costs of remediation activities, responses of conditions to changes in stressors, and economic benefits of improved conditions.

We have developed a model of nitrogen pollution loads from an array of sources in the Pennsylvania portion of the Susquehanna River Basin. As developed to this point, the simulation model combines hydrologic and economic components that can be used to explore the hypothesis about the value of economic and certain types of stressor-response information for water quality management. During the second year, we will explore this hypothesis, and expand the types of environmental indicators that can be captured by the model.

Integrated Assessment of Economic and Ecological Status of Watersheds. A significant achievement during the first year was the formation of a cross-disciplinary subgroup to develop theory and methods for integrated assessment of the status of watersheds. One accomplishment of this group was the development of a theoretical foundation for defining reference conditions for integrated assessment (presented at the March 2002 all-hands meeting). We now are moving towards implementing this framework using available socioeconomic and environmental data.

As part of our integrated assessment activity, we also have developed a catalog of socioeconomic indicators that are used or have been proposed for use in water quality and aquatic ecosystem management. We are evaluating these indicators using criteria similar to those proposed by Jackson, et al.

Logistics, Coordination, and Staffing. Four all-hands meetings, as well as a number of working group meetings, have served to facilitate communication among our 40+ team members at 6 institutions. Opportunities for coordination with other institutions and programs (e.g., Canaan Valley Institute), and ongoing studies being coordinated through Mid-Atlantic Integrated Assessment (MAIA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Regional Vulnerability Program (ReVA), have been explored. Representatives of the ASC also have interacted with other EaGles groups to identify common issues and work toward addressing common problems.

During the first year, we developed an extensive list of potential cooperators, both those that participate in the research and those that react to the implementation of indicators. More direct involvement with cooperators is anticipated toward the end of the second year.

Future Activities:

The second year of the project will require the initiation of a substantial number of independent, but integrated, broadly defined, sampling efforts by ASC members, particularly during the summer sampling season. Projected activities of specific working groups include:

· Estuary Group. Extensive sampling will be conducted of the physical, chemical, and biological components of near-shore areas of estuarine segments and the non-tidal stream, wetland, and riparian portions of estuarine watersheds. Shoreline assessment surveys will be conducted in Maryland this summer using the Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) protocol.

· Watershed Group. Selected 14-digit HUC watersheds (about 100 km2), will be chosen from the pool of 3,800 watersheds in the study area for further investigation. The same protocol used by the Estuary Group for rapid assessment of freshwater stream, wetland, and riparian conditions will be implemented in these watersheds.

· Human Dimensions Group. Unique to our EaGLe project, we are compiling socioeconomic information and interviewing environmental managers and selected members of the public to determine if, and how, they would use the ecological and socioeconomic indicators developed during this project. Cooperators and other contacts throughout the study area will be included in this work.

· GIS Team. In addition to supporting the work of the other three work groups, the GIS Team continues to acquire and modify remote-sensing and landscape-level data sets that are critical for the characterization of study sites and the overall study area. Once specific study sites are sampled, we will conduct analysis on the surrounding watersheds or immediate landscapes pertinent to each site. The results of these metrics and analysis will be compared to site-specific data collected by the ASC or obtained from other sources.


Journal Articles: 36 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other center views: All 158 publications 43 publications in selected types All 36 journal articles
Type Citation Sub Project Document Sources
Journal Article Baker ME, Weller DE, Jordan TE. Improved methods for quantifying potential nutrient interception by riparian buffers. Landscape Ecology 2006;21(8):1327-1345.
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  • Journal Article Baker ME, Weller DE, Jordan TE. Comparison of automated watershed delineations: effects on land cover areas, percentages, and relationships to nutrient discharge. Photogrammetric Engineering & Remote Sensing 2006;72(2):159-168. R828684C003 (Final)
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    Journal Article Baker ME, Weller DE, Jordan TE. Effects of stream map resolution on measures of riparian buffer distribution and nutrient retention potential. Landscape Ecology 2007;22(7):973-992.
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    R828684 (Final)
    R831369 (2006)
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  • Journal Article Bilkovic DM, Roggero M, Hershner CH, Havens KH. Influence of land use on macrobenthic communities in nearshore estuarine habitats. Estuaries and Coasts 2006;29(6):1185-1195.
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  • Journal Article Borisova T, Shortle JS, Horan RD, Abler DG. The value of information for water quality protection. Water Resources Research 2005;41(6):W06004.
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  • Journal Article Brooks R, McKenney-Easterling M, Brinson M, Rheinhardt R, Havens K, O'Brien D, Bishop J, Rubbo J, Armstrong B, Hite J. A Stream-Wetland-Riparian (SWR) index for assessing condition of aquatic ecosystems in small watersheds along the Atlantic slope of the eastern U.S. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 2009;150(1-4):101-117.
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  • Journal Article DeLuca WV, Studds CE, Rockwood LL, Marra PP. Influence of land use on the integrity of marsh bird communities of Chesapeake Bay, USA. Wetlands 2004;24(4):837-847. R828684C001 (2004)
    R828684C001 (Final)
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    Journal Article DeLuca WV, Studds CE, King RS, Marra PP. Coastal urbanization and the integrity of estuarine waterbird communities: threshold responses and the importance of scale. Biological Conservation 2008;141(11):2669-2678.
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  • Full-text: Science DIrect Full-text
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  • Journal Article Gallegos CL, Biber PD. Diagnostic tool help set water quality targets for restoring submerged aquatic vegetation in Chesapeake Bay. Ecological Restoration 2004;22(4):1441-1451 R828684C002 (2004)
    R828677C004 (2004)
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    Journal Article Gallegos CL, Jordan TE, Hines AH, Weller DE. Temporal variability of optical properties in a shallow, eutrophic estuary: seasonal and interannual variability. Estuarine Coastal and Shelf Science 2005;64(2-3):156-170.
    abstract available   full text available
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    R828684C002 (2003)
  • Full-text: Science Direct - Full Text HTML
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  • Abstract: Science Direct - Abstract
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  • Journal Article Goetz S, Fiske G. Linking the diversity and abundance of stream biota to landscapes in the mid-Atlantic USA. Remote Sensing of Environment 2008;112(11):4075-4085.
    abstract available   full text available
    R828684 (Final)
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  • Full-text: Science Direct Full-text
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  • Journal Article Goetz SJ. Remote sensing of riparian buffers: past progress and future prospects. Journal of the American Water Resources Association 2006;42(1):133-143.
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    R828684 (Final)
    R831369 (2006)
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  • Abstract: Wiley
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  • Journal Article Hershner C, Havens K, Bilkovic DM, Wardrop D. Assessment of Chesapeake Bay program selection and use of indicators. EcoHealth 2007;4(2):187-193.
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  • Journal Article Horan RD, Shortle JS, Abler DG. The coordination and design of point-nonpoint trading programs and agri-environmental policies. Agricultural and Resource Economics Review 2004;33(1):61-78.
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  • Journal Article Horan RD, Shortle JS. When two wrongs make a right: second-best point-nonpoint trading ratios. American Journal of Agricultural Economics 2005;87(2):340-352.
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  • Journal Article Hychka KC, Wardrop DH, Brooks RP. Enhancing a landscape assessment with intensive data: a case study in the Upper Juniata watershed. Wetlands 2007;27(3):446-461.
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  • Journal Article King RS, Richardson CJ. Integrating bioassessment and ecological risk assessment: an approach to developing numerical water-quality criteria. Environmental Management 2003;31(6):795-809.
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  • Journal Article King RS, Beaman JR, Whigham DF, Hines AH, et al. Watershed land use is strongly linked to PCBs in white perch in Chesapeake Bay subestuaries. Environmental Science & Technology 2004;38(24):6546-6552. R828684C001 (2004)
    R828684C001 (Final)
  • Full-text: ACS Full Text
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  • Journal Article King RS, Baker ME, Whigham DF, Weller DE, Jordan TE, Kazyak PF, Hurd MK. Spatial considerations for linking watershed land cover to ecological indicators in streams. Ecological Applications 2005;15(1):137-153.
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  • Full-text: Baylor University PDF
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  • Journal Article King RS, Hines AH, Craige FD, Grap S. Regional, watershed, and local correlates of blue crab and bivalve abundances in subestuaries of Chesapeake Bay, USA. Journal of Experimental Marine Biology and Ecology 2005;319(1-2):101-116. R828684 (Final)
    R828684C001 (2003)
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    Journal Article King RS, Deluca WV, Whigham DF, Marra PP. Threshold effects of coastal urbanization on Phragmites australis (common reed) abundance and foliar nitrogen in Chesapeake Bay. Estuaries and Coasts 2007;30(3):469-481.
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  • Journal Article Marshall E, Shortle J. Using DEA and VEA to evaluate quality of life in the mid-Atlantic states. Agriculture and Resource Economics Review 2005;34(2):185-203. R828684C004 (Final)
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    Journal Article McElfish Jr. JM, Varnell LM. Designing environmental indicator systems for public decisions. Columbia Journal of Environmental Law 2006;31(1):45-86.
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  • Journal Article Myers WL, McKenney-Easterling M, Hychka K, Griscom B, Bishop JA, Bayard A, Rocco GL, Brooks RP, Constantz G, Patil GP, Taillie C. Contextual clustering for configuring collaborative conservation of watersheds in the Mid-Atlantic Highlands. Environmental and Ecological Statistics 2006;13(4):391-407.
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  • Journal Article Myers WL, Kurihara K, Patil GP, Vraney R. Finding upper-level sets in cellular surface data using echelons and saTScan. Environmental and Ecological Statistics 2006;13(4):379-390.
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  • Journal Article Niemi G, Wardrop D, Brooks R, Anderson S, Brady V, Paerl H , Rakocinski C, Brouwer M, Levinson B, McDonald M. Rationale for a new generation of indicators for coastal waters. Environmental Health Perspectives 2004;112(9):979-986.
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  • Full-text from PubMed
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  • Full-text: EHP - Full Text HTML
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  • Journal Article Patil GP, Brooks RP, Myers WL, Rapport DJ, Taillie C. Ecosystem health and its measurement at landscape scale: toward the next generation of quantitative assessments. Ecosystem Health 2001;7(4):307-316.
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  • Other: Ecosystem Health Full-text pdf
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  • Journal Article Patil GP, Bishop JA, Myers WL, Taillie C, Vraney R, Wardrop D. Detection and delineation of critical areas using echelons and spatial scan statistics with synoptic cellular data. Environmental and Ecological Statistics 2004;11(2):139-164.
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  • Full-text: IngentaConnect
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  • Journal Article Patil GP, Taillie C. Multiple indicators, partially ordered sets, and linear extensions:multi-criterion ranking and prioritization. Environmental and Ecological Statistics 2004;11(2):199-228.
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  • Journal Article Patil GP, Taillie C. Upper level set scan statistic for detecting arbitrarily shaped hotspots. Environmental and Ecological Statistics 2004;11(2):183-197.
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  • Journal Article Ranjan R, Marshall L, Shortle J. Optimal renewable resource management in the presence of endogenous risk of invasion. Environmental and Resource Economics 2008;89(4):273-283.
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  • Journal Article Rheinhardt RD, Brinson MM, Christian RR, Miller KH, Meyer GF. A reference-based framework for evaluating the ecological condition of stream networks in small watersheds. Wetlands 2007;27(3):524-542.
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  • Journal Article Rheinhardt RD, McKenney-Easterling M, Brinson MM, Masina-Rubbo J, Brooks RP, Whigham DF, O'Brien D, Hite JT, Armstrong BK. Canopy composition and forest structure provide restoration targets for low-order riparian ecosystems. Restoration Ecology 2009;17(1):51-59.
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  • Abstract: Ingenta Connect
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  • Journal Article Rheinhardt R, Brinson M, Brooks R, McKenney-Easterling M, Rubbo JM, Hite J, Armstrong B. Development of a reference-based method for identifying and scoring indicators of condition for coastal plain riparian reaches. Ecological Indicators 2007;7(2):339-361.
    abstract available   full text available
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  • Full-text: Science Direct Full-text
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  • Journal Article Theobald DM, Goetz SJ, Norman JB, Jantz P. Watersheds at risk to increased impervious surface cover in the conterminous United States. Journal of Hydrologic Engineering 2009;14(4):362-368.
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  • Journal Article Wardrop DH, Bishop JA, Easterling M, Hychka K, Myers W, Patil GP, Taillie C. Use of landscape and land use parameters for classification and characterization of watersheds in the mid-Atlantic across five physiographic provinces. Environmental and Ecological Statistics 2005;12(2):209-223.
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  • Supplemental Keywords:

    indicators, integrated assessment, aquatic ecosystem, wetland, stream, estuary, watershed, biological integrity, landscape ecology, scaling, socioeconomic, decisionmaking, geographic information system, GIS, Mid-Atlantic., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Geographic Area, Waste, Water, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Hydrology, Nutrients, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, Wastewater, Contaminated Sediments, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Economics, Mid-Atlantic, Ecology and Ecosystems, Ecological Risk Assessment, Biology, Ecological Indicators, remote sensing, coastal ecosystem, aquatic ecosystem, bioindicator, degradation, ecological exposure, ecosystem assessment, watersheds, aquatic biota , contaminated sediment, socioeconomics, biomonitoring, ecological assessment, estuarine ecosystems, integrated assessment, nutrient stress, ecosystem indicators, Atlantic Slope Consortium, aquatic ecosystems, environmental stress, integrative indicators, water quality, bioindicators, ecosystem stress

    Relevant Websites:

    http://www.asc.psu.edu Exit
    https://cfpub.epa.gov/ncer_abstracts/index.cfm/fuseaction/display.files/fileID/7680 (PDF) (8 pp., 3.4MB) about PDF)

    Progress and Final Reports:

    Original Abstract
  • 2002 Progress Report
  • 2003 Progress Report
  • 2004 Progress Report
  • Final Report
  • Subprojects under this Center: (EPA does not fund or establish subprojects; EPA awards and manages the overall grant for this center).
    R828684C001 Integrated Assessment of Estuarine Ecosystems
    R828684C002 Development of an Optical Indicator of Habitat Suitability for Submersed Aquatic Vegetation
    R828684C003 Integrated Assessment of Watersheds
    R828684C004 Socioeconomic and Institutional Research