USGS Technical Support for Coastal/Wetlands Ecology: Spatial Analysis and Application for the Gulf Coast Prairie Landscape Conservation Cooperative (GCP LCC)

Science Center Objects

The Gulf Coastal Prairie (GCP) includes areas within Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas as well as Mexico. The GCP Landscape Conservation Cooperative aims to conserve prairie grasslands which helps migratory birds and other wildlife that rely on these ecosystems.

Blue bonnets, outside of Austin, Texas

Blue bonnets, outside of Austin, Texas (Credit: Joan Gonzalez. Public domain.)

The Science Issue and Relevance: The Gulf Coastal Prairie (GCP) includes areas within Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Texas as well as Mexico. The GCP Landscape Conservation Cooperative aims to conserve prairie grasslands which helps migratory birds and other wildlife that rely on these ecosystems. Scientists at the USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center support the GCP LCC by facilitating collaboration, coordination and dissemination of temporal and geospatial data, bio-informatics, and data development on known gap areas, with a focus on prioritization and decision support tools. WARC also provides expertise in GIS analysis, data set development and maintenance, image processing, aerial photography rectification, cartographic products, and geo-spatial planning for natural resources applications. Support also entails storing and summarizing data information, or assisting in developing and completing maps, tables, and graphics in ArcGIS, Imagine or other programs for user specified localities. USGS also prepares assorted maps, images, and other materials relevant to aquatic and terrestrial conservation planning, design, monitoring, and evaluation ensuring data management systems are compatible for data exchange and analytical applications.

Methodologies for Addressing the Issue: 
Develop Habitat/Landcover Datasets and Maps to Support Predictive Modeling and Landscape Change Analysis
Provide assistance with updating GIS coverage to include landcover habitat maps in Texas and Oklahoma with similar areas and vegetation in Louisiana and Mexico. Landcover data is high priority for the GCP LCC and areas of interest are:

1.       Grassland Project – Pilots will include increased efforts for LA-TX Chenier Plain and TX-OK Grassland Pilot – GRIP counties.
2.       Edwards Plateau – Support the Task Group development expanded to coastal counties and specific San Antonio, Guadalupe and Colorado River watersheds.

Development of Spatially-Explicit Web-Based Decision Support Tools
Compile data from multiple sources into common format and assess usefulness from a management perspective. WARC is working closely with LCC Science Coordinators to address partner and conservation manager needs through the Conservation Planning Atlas (CPA); significant capability is being demonstrated and constant improvement continues to make this a high priority for LCCs. Support for revised and updated elements of the Sea-Level Rise and Mottled Duck Decision Support Tools to include improvement reviews and quality control of data prior to posting on the GCP LCC CPA. The CPA lets partners easily discover, visualize, access, and integrate existing spatial data and tools. The GCP LCC CPA provides access to all spatial data funded by or created in collaboration with the GCP, other relevant spatial data in our geography, and provides a platform for collaboration with our partners. For the GCP funded projects, our partners can view the data in a web map, overlay the data with other data available in the CPA or user uploaded data, and download the spatial data, metadata and any other associated information (e.g. reports, publications). The CPA has enhanced collaboration through the “Groups” feature, where each member of a group can upload their own spatial data and documents and create maps to share with the group. The group function has been utilized by the Science Team to finalize the focal species and their broadly defined habitats, in the Instream Flow project by assisting in the review of many large spatial dataset by scientists without GIS software, and the Grassland Decision Support Tool to share initial and intermediate datasets with the working groups. It has also been used in multi-LCC projects such as the Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment where it allowed participants from across the Gulf of Mexico to evaluate the effects of sea-level rise, climate change, and urbanization on four habitats and 11 associated species in six sub-regions.

Technical Support for Aquatic and Terrestrial Conservation Planning
Participate and engage in GCP LCC coastal vulnerability assessment efforts and support the science coordinator in developing priority science themes. Advise the Gulf Coast Prairie LCC on a broad range of science efforts, GIS techniques and provide technical guidance and assistance to the landscape level analysis for Gulf Coast Prairie LCC ecosystems, GMIT, SARP and Grasslands datasets.

Future Steps: 
Application of a Terrestrial Landscape Fragmentation Framework
South-Central United States
Habitat fragmentation is of critical concern to some species that migrate or use extensive land and water areas throughout their life cycle. WARC staff evaluate methods for measuring how urban, rural, and energy-related development has affected habitat connectivity. A fragmentation analysis of Oklahoma has been expanded to Louisiana and Texas, creating maps that identify relatively intact areas of the landscape. These maps help partners focus on the most important areas to conserve and restore to support self-sustaining wildlife populations. Future analysis will be conducted to identify the fragmentation of specific habitat types as well as estimate future fragmentation due to urbanization.

Inventory, Monitoring and Evaluation
Data Management, Inventory “storage” & CPA
G-MIT: Modify and expand the web-based monitoring system for grassland habitat called the Grassland Management Inventory Tool (G-MIT). This tool allows the user to update vegetation and management attributes by track of land, which enables our partners to track and report conservation delivery acreages by organization, program, and funding source and inform conservation planning and resource allocation. The G-MIT is currently being used by the Oaks and Prairies Joint Venture to quantify contributions of land tracts in the Grassland Restoration Incentive Program (GRIP) in Texas towards their habitat objectives for grassland birds. This data helps partners identify the relationship between grassland management practices and available habitat type in relation to bird population response. In FY18, the GCP will expand the G-MIT to be utilized as field validation and documentation of site characteristics to improve the Ecological Systems Mapping in Texas and Oklahoma, to assess value of Louisiana landcover data and for use by other partners such as The Nature Conservancy and the Native Prairies Association of Texas.

The GCP is working with partners to develop ideas for a collaborative conservation program among the involved agencies to “Protect, Enhance and Restore Pollinator Habitat” through:
1. assisting in the development of restoration and management practices.
2. monitor the effectiveness of applied conservation practices.

Related Project(s) and Products(s):

Watson, A., Reece, J., Tirpak, B.E., Edwards, C.K., Geselbracht, L., Woodrey, M., LaPeyre, M., and Dalyander, P.S., 2015. The Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment: Mangrove, Tidal Emergent Marsh, Barrier Islands, and Oyster Reef. http://gulfcoastprairielcc.org/science/science-projects/gulf-coast-vulnerability-assessment/ 

Watson, A., Reece, J., Tirpak, B.E., Edwards, C.K., Geselbracht, L., Woodrey, M., La Peyre, M.K., and Dalyander, P.S., 2017, The Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment: Mangrove, Tidal Emergent Marsh, Barrier Islands, and Oyster Reef: Forest and Wildlife Research Center, Research Bulletin WFA421, Mississippi State University, 100 p., http://www.fwrc.msstate.edu/pubs/Gulf_Coast_Vulnerability_Assessment.pdf.

Watson, Amanda, Reece, Joshua, Tirpak, B.E., Edwards, C.K., Geselbracht, Laura, Woodrey, Mark, La Peyre, M.K., and Dalyander, P.S., 2017, Data for Gulf Coast Vulnerability Assessment: U.S. Geological Survey data release, https://doi.org/10.5066/F7BC3WR8. (release date, 6/28/2017)