Aquatic Native Species and Habitat Restoration: Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Restoration and Functional Assessment Tools

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USGS scientists developed the Restoration Assessment decision support tool to help resource managers prioritize where to invest in restoration activities, and the Functional Assessment analysis tool which will help managers quantify changes in ecosystem services associated with restoration actions.

great lakes wetlands

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The tools were developed to support multi-scale decision making about where to target resources for coastal wetland restoration and the evaluation of the relationship between ecosystem functions and ecosystem health, as characterized by the Coastal Wetland Monitoring Program (CWMP). Principles of geodesign were implemented to develop 1) a basin-wide GIS data model that assesses the restorability of wetland areas in the coastal zone and 2) web-based geospatial applications (e.g., web mapper, geonarrative) that identify and support decision making about coastal wetland habitat restoration. The functional assessment component relied on close cooperation with the CWMP to collect fish and other samples that were analyzed to understand how wetland quality affects fish production and how the wetland health data reflect seasonal ecosystem functions (e.g., fish reproduction).

An online geonarrative (https://glcwra.wim.usgs.gov/) was created to describe the Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Restoration Assessments completed for three geographies (Western Lake Erie, Connecting River Systems, Saginaw Bay) and those being developed for Green Bay and other geographies. An online mapper was developed for each geography to present results from the restorability assessment and the six publicly accessible geospatial data layers used in the restorability model. The model was created by applying geospatial, statistical, and multi-criteria modeling techniques to the input data layers. Functional assessment data collection sites were selected to reflect a range of wetland qualities across all five Great Lakes. Fyke nets were used to sample fish in the fall and spring seasons of 2016 – 2018. Captured fish were characterized, and a subsample of juvenile fish were saved for the diet analysis. In the lab, an analysis was completed to identify stomach contents to the lowest practical taxonomic unit. Wetland quality will be quantified using the Coastal Wetland Monitoring Program’s SumRank scores for each site. Summary analyses are currently being conducted, and statistical analyses are in the beginning stages.

Restoration Assessment parameter data (i.e., hydroperiod, wetland soils, flowlines, conservation and recreation lands, impervious surfaces, land use) were collected from Federal and State databases for the areas of interest.  Input data layers and the coastal wetland restorability index layer are available to the public in online mappers accessibly from the geo narrative (https://glcwra.wim.usgs.gov/). The GLCWMP data came from all five Great Lakes, five sampling seasons (3 fall, 2 spring), and 49 unique sites (most of which were sampled in one spring and one fall season). A total of 4,316 fish representing 58 different species were dissected. The most common families included Centrarchidae, Cyprinidae, Percidae, and Ictaluridae. A diversity of prey was observed in the fish stomachs including zooplankton, mollusks, oligochaetes, amphipods, isopods, insects, and other fish. Wetland quality scores are still being calculated. Together, these data will be used to assess whether fish prey differ across wetlands of different quality. Publicly accessible geonarrative (https://glcwra.wim.usgs.gov/) and online mappers for western Lake Erie (https://glcwra.wim.usgs.gov/wlera), the connecting river system (https://glcwra.wim.usgs.gov/crsra), Saginaw Bay (https://glcwra.wim.usgs.gov/sbra), and soon Green Bay.

The decision support tool produced by this work compliments other landscape-scale efforts to support decision-making and conservation of Great Lakes coastal wetlands, such as the GLRI-funded Great Lakes Coastal Wetland Monitoring Program. The need for this tool was articulated by the former Upper Midwest-Great Lakes Landscape Conservation Cooperative, and now the Great Lakes Coastal Assembly is actively using the tool in their grant and project decision making. Other state and federal users continue to give positive feedback on the tool and look forward to future developments. Preliminary data analyses of the functional assessment data revealed that fish primarily consumed amphipods and insects in the spring but mostly zooplankton in the fall. Differences in diets across wetlands of different quality will be assessed once SumRank scores are calculated.

Publications

Kowalski, K. P. and J. Saarinen. 2016. Data Release for “Dike Models for the Great Lakes coastal wetland restoration assessment found in geographies: Connected River Systems, Saginaw Bay, and Western Lake Erie.” doi: 10.5066/F7NS0S0Z, 10.5066/F78K7766, 10.5066/F7W9579M.

Kowalski, K. P. and Saarinen, J. 2016. Data Release for “Flowline models for the Great Lakes coastal wetland restoration assessment found in geographies: Connected River Systems, Saginaw Bay, and Western Lake Erie.” doi: 10.5066/F7SJ1HQ8, 10.5066/F7D798K3, 10.5066/F7125QSH.

Kowalski, K. P. and Saarinen, J. 2016. Data Release for “Composite Models for the Great Lakes coastal wetland restoration assessment found in geographies: Connected River Systems, Saginaw Bay, and Western Lake Erie.” doi: 10.5066/F7X928F0 10.5066/F7NS0S0Z 10.5066/F74T6GHX.

Contributions

  • All components of this work were funded by Focus Area 4 Habitat and Species and support the metrics tracking coastal wetland restoration area. The Restoration Assessment decision support tool helps resource managers prioritize where to invest in restoration activities, while the functional assessment analysis will help managers quantify changes in ecosystem services associated with restoration actions.

Partners

  • The New College of Florida laid the initial groundwork for creation of the geodesign model and the decision support tool.
  • The Coastal Wetlands Monitoring Program helped with project planning and completed the field work portion of the functional assessment work.