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A Summary of Ecological Indicators for Biota of the US Great Lakes Coastal Region

Gerald Niemi 1 , Richard. Axler 1, Val Brady 1, Terry Brown 1, Jan Ciborowski 2, Nick Danz 1, JoAnn Hanowski 1, Tom Hollenhorst 1, George Host 1, Robert Howe 3, Lucinda Johnson 1, Carol Johnston 4, John Kelly 5, Euan Reavie 1, Ron Regal 6, Matt Simcik 7, Deborah Swackhamer 7 and Anett Trebitz 5

1 Natural Resources Research Institute, University of Minnesota Duluth
2 University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada
3 University of Wisconsin, Green Bay
4 South Dakota State University, Brookings, South Dakota
5 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), ORD-MED, Duluth, Minnesota
6 Department of Mathematics and Statistics, University of Minnesota Duluth
7 Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, University of Minnesota Twin Cities

In January 2001 we initiated a four-year project funded by U.S. EPA’s Science to Achieve Results Program to identify, evaluate, and recommend a portfolio of multi-scaled ecological indicators for application to the entire U.S. Great Lakes coastal region. Major indicators developed include: 1) land use/land cover; 2) water quality, contaminant levels, and relative abundance and diversity of amphibian, bird, diatom, fish, macro-invertebrates, and plant communities in estuaries/bays and near-shore coastal waters; and 3) bird communities in coastal land margins. We employed a random stratified sampling design to select sample sites which incorporated over 200 GIS data layers of potential stress to the region. Multi-variate statistical techniques were used to reduce the dimensionality and explore responses of the biota with the stress variables.

More than 300 study sites were sampled across the U.S. Great Lakes coastal region and a variety of ecological indicators for land use, water quality, contaminants, and the respective biota were developed. The primary effects on ecological condition for these respective indicators within the coastal zone were due to agricultural (e.g., row crops) and urban-residential land uses. Point source effects were largely confined to industrial, human-dominated landscapes. Because the majority of human-influenced land uses in the Great Lakes region is affected by agriculture and urban-residential area, these stressors have the greatest influence on the biota within the coastal region. Understanding changes in the biological communities of the coastal zone will require knowledge of adjacent land use activities and the hydrodynamics of the near-shore zone.

Keywords: ecological, indicators, coastal, Great Lakes, biota, land use, stress

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