Science Inventory

DEVELOPMENT OF LANDSCAPE INDICATORS FOR USE IN REGIONAL ECOLOGICAL RISK ASSESSMENTS

Impact/Purpose:

The primary objectives of this research are to:

Develop methodologies so that landscape indicator values generated from different sensors on different dates (but in the same areas) are comparable; differences in metric values result from landscape changes and not differences in the sensors;

Quantify relationships between landscape metrics generated from wall-to-wall spatial data and (1) specific parameters related to water resource conditions in different environmental settings across the US, including but not limited to nutrients, sediment, and benthic communities, and (2) multi-species habitat suitability;

Develop and validate multivariate models based on quantification studies;

Develop GIS/model assessment protocols and tools to characterize risk of nutrient and sediment TMDL exceedence;

Complete an initial draft (potentially web based) of a national landscape condition assessment.

This research directly supports long-term goals established in ORDs multiyear plans related to GPRA Goal 2 (Water) and GPRA Goal 4 (Healthy Communities and Ecosystems), although funding for this task comes from Goal 4. Relative to the GRPA Goal 2 multiyear plan, this research is intended to "provide tools to assess and diagnose impairment in aquatic systems and the sources of associated stressors." Relative to the Goal 4 Multiyear Plan this research is intended to (1) provide states and tribes with an ability to assess the condition of waterbodies in a scientifically defensible and representative way, while allowing for aggregation and assessment of trends at multiple scales, (2) assist Federal, State and Local managers in diagnosing the probable cause and forecasting future conditions in a scientifically defensible manner to protect and restore ecosystems, and (3) provide Federal, State and Local managers with a scientifically defensible way to assess current and future ecological conditions, and probable causes of impairments, and a way to evaluate alternative future management scenarios.

Description:

There is a growing need for cost effective ways to assess conditions of and risks to ecological resources at a variety of scales over broad regions. Indicators, models and assessment tools are needed to evaluate water bodies at risk to non-point source pollution and to be able to identify those water bodies that are likely impaired (those that don't meet designated uses) due to one or several stressors (e.g., nutrients, sediment, etc.). Funding is not sufficient to monitor all water bodies within any given State, yet States are required to put together comprehensive lists of those water bodies that don't meet designated uses. Action plans (or Total Maximum Daily Loads plans) are then required for specific water bodies. To accurately identify water bodies at risk of exceeding TMDL thresholds, methods are needed that evaluate the probability of impairment of all water bodies across entire States. New spatial data on a variety of landscape characteristics, including but not limited to soils, vegetation and land cover, topography, road networks, and stream networks, across the lower 48 United States, coupled with rapidly improving computer technology, permit the development of models to help identify water bodies at risk to a range of floodplain and watershed level stressors at scales ranging from small watersheds to the entire lower 48 United States. One of the primary goals of this task is to develop indicators, models, and assessment tools that identify water bodies at risk due to a range of stressors with the ultimate goal of conducting a national landscape assessment. In addition to estimating non-point source contributions to loadings, an objective of this task is to develop spatial metrics of point source loadings and to combine them with empirical models developed for non-point source loadings; the aim here is to improve the explanatory power of the models.

This task also seeks to develop new landscape metrics that will help characterize stressors that have been identified as potentially important to a range of aquatic resources, such as dams and other human use factors.

This task directly supports the Regional Vulnerability Assessment (ReVA) program by developing models needed to assess current and future risks or vulnerabilities. In addition to supporting assessments in the Mid-Atlantic Region, this task includes the development of landscape metrics and models needed to assess ecological vulnerability in the Southeastern Region of the US -ReVA's next geographic demonstration. This involves scoping out issues related to water resources within the SE Region, evaluating the availability of landscape and aquatic data within the Region, evaluating existing studies linking landscape metrics to aquatic resources (e.g. models), and building upon existing assessment tools within the Region (e.g., the Southeast Ecological Framework). It is anticipated that this task will involve relatively small pilot areas (to test out concepts and to develop models), as well as regional scale metric generation and model development. We also anticipate extensive collaboration with the NHEERL Gulf Breeze Laboratory on the development of models linking the condition of watersheds with estuaries, especially nutrient and sediment loadings affecting estuaries.

As mentioned above, one of the goals of the Landscape Sciences Program is to conduct a National Landscape Assessment (this is reflected in the Goal 8 (now Goal 4) Multi-year Plan, the Landscape Sciences Strategic Plan (EPA/600/R-00/001), and the APM in FY05, which calls for a set of landscape indicators. Although landscape data are now available nationally to calculate metrics that relate to aquatic resources and potential stressors, data on aquatic resources have not been compiled in such a manner that would permit empirical model development needed to conduct a comprehensive national assessment. Therefore, one of the key activities (initiated in FY02) is the acquisition of aquatic resource data in different regions of the country that would permit the development of landscape models (see subtask description).

The various geographies of the projects listed in this task are varied. In some cases, a particular geography was selected to meet a specific client need, and in other cases, to test a similar indicator or modeling approach in a different biophysical setting. The former is critical in making the program immediately relevant to EPA and its clients in answering important questions whereas the later is necessary to understand differences in indicator and model applications among different regions of the US (for the national assessment).

Record Details:

Record Type: PROJECT
Start Date: 04/21/2010
Completion Date: 04/21/2010
OMB Category: Other
Record ID: 11069

Organization:

U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY

OFFICE OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

NATIONAL EXPOSURE RESEARCH LABORATORY

ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES DIVISION

LANDSCAPE ECOLOGY BRANCH