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A novel approach to assessing natural resource injury with Bayesian networks

October 6, 2023

Quantifying the effects of environmental stressors on natural resources is problematic because of complex interactions among environmental factors that influence endpoints of interest. This complexity, coupled with data limitations, propagates uncertainty that can make it difficult to causally associate specific environmental stressors with injury endpoints. The Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration (NRDAR) regulations under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act and Oil Pollution Act aim to restore natural resources injured by oil spills and hazardous substances released into the environment; exploration of alternative statistical methods to evaluate effects could help address NRDAR legal claims. Bayesian networks (BNs) are statistical tools that can be used to estimate the influence and interrelatedness of abiotic and biotic environmental variables on environmental endpoints of interest. We investigated the application of a BN for injury assessment using a hypothetical case study by simulating data of acid mine drainage (AMD) affecting a fictional stream-dwelling bird species. We compared the BN-generated probability estimates for injury with a more traditional approach using toxicity thresholds for water and sediment chemistry. Bayesian networks offered several distinct advantages over traditional approaches, including formalizing the use of expert knowledge, probabilistic estimates of injury using intermediate direct and indirect effects, and the incorporation of a more nuanced and ecologically relevant representation of effects. Given the potential that BNs have for natural resource injury assessment, more research and field-based application are needed to determine their efficacy in NRDAR. We expect the resulting methods will be of interest to many US federal, state, and tribal programs devoted to the evaluation, mitigation, remediation, and/or restoration of natural resources injured by releases or spills of contaminants

Publication Year 2024
Title A novel approach to assessing natural resource injury with Bayesian networks
DOI 10.1002/ieam.4836
Authors Freya Elizabeth Rowland, Christopher James Kotalik, Bruce G. Marcot, Jo Ellen Hinck, David Walters
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Integrated Environmental Assessment and Management
Index ID 70249413
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Columbia Environmental Research Center