The goal of this research collaboration was to develop indicators that both estimate environmental condition and suggest plausible causes of ecosystem degradation in the coastal region of the U.S. Great Lakes. The collaboration consisted of 8 broad components, each of which generated different types of environmental responses and characteristics of the coastal region. These indicators included biotic communities of amphibians, birds, diatoms, fish, macroinvertebrates, and wetland plants as well as indicators of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) photo-induced toxicity and landscape characterization. These components are summarized below and discussed in more detailed in 5 separate reports (Section II). Stress gradients within the U.S. Great Lakes coastal region were defined from 207 variables (e.g., agriculture, atmospheric deposition, land use/land cover, human populations, point source pollution, and shoreline modification) from 19 different data sources that were publicly available for the coastal region. Biotic communities along these gradients were sampled with a stratified, random design among representative ecosystems within the coastal zone. To achieve the sampling across this massive area, the coastal region was subdivided into 2 major ecological provinces and further subdivided into 762 segment sheds. Stress gradients were defined for the major categories of human-induced disturbance in the coastal region and an overall stress index was calculated which represented a combination of all the stress gradients. Investigators of this collaboration have had extensive interactions with the Great Lakes community. For instance, the Lake Erie Lakewide Area Management Plan (LAMP) has adopted many of the stressor measures as integral indicators of the condition of watersheds tributary to Lake Erie. Furthermore, the conceptual approach and applications for development of a generalized stressor gradient have been incorporated into a document defining the tiered aquatic life criteria for defining biological integrity of the nation’s waters. A total of 14 indicators of the U.S. Great Lakes coastal region are presented for potential application. Each indicator is summarized with respect to its use, methodology, spatial context, and diagnosis capability. In general, the results indicate that stress related to agricultural activity and human population density/development had the largest impacts on the biotic community indicators. In contrast, the photoinduced PAH indicator was primarily related to industrial activity in the U.S. Great Lakes, and over half of the sites sampled were potentially at risk of PAH toxicity to larval fish. One of the indicators developed for land use/land change was developed from Landsat imagery for the entire U.S. Great Lakes basin and for the period from 1992 to 2001. This indicator quantified the extensive conversions of both agricultural and forest land to residential area that has occurred during a short 9 year period. Considerable variation in the responses were manifest at different spatial scales and many at surprisingly large scales. Significant advances were made with respect to development of methods for identifying and testing environmental indicators. In addition, many indicators and concepts developed from this project are being incorporated into management plans and U.S. 8 EPA methods documents. Further details, downloadable documents, and updates on these indicators can be found at the GLEI website - http://glei.nrri.umn.edu.
Niemi, Gerald J.; Axler, Richard P.; Brady, Valerie; Brazner, John; Brown, Terry; Ciborowski, Jan J.H.; Danz, Nick; Hanowski, JoAnn M.; Hollenhorst, Thomas; Howe, Robert; Johnson, Lucinda B.; Johnston, Carol J.; Reavie, Euan; Simcik, Matthew; and Swackhamer, Deborah L., "Environmental Indicators for the Coastal Region of the U.S. Great Lakes" (2014).