Jump to main content.


Nutrient Response in Great Lakes Coastal Wetlands

Project Summary

Scientifically sound approaches are needed to establish nutrient criteria for US coastal ecosystems. In response to this need, the EPA's National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (NHEERL) initiated a national research program to determine quantitative relationships between nutrient loading and biological responses in coastal waters that can be used as the foundation for development of nutrient criteria.  In support of this goal, this Division is studying relationships between nutrient loading and responses of food webs, aquatic plant communities, and physical habitat characteristics in coastal wetlands of the Great Lakes.

Our experimental approach was to measure key aspects of the nutrient regime and biota in a set of 58 coastal wetlands that spans relevant gradients in anthropogenic stressors and natural conditions in the Great Lakes basin. Our sampling focused on quantifying primary producers (planktonic and attached algae, emergent and submergent plants) and flow of energy through food webs as measured by stable isotope analysis of key components of wetland foodwebs (primary producers, invertebrates, and fish consumers).  We found strong relationships between human activities and nutrient loading to coastal wetlands, and in turn found that a variety of biological endpoints were strongly influenced by nutrient loading.  In light of these findings, our continuing efforts are focused on evaluating different approaches to analyzing and interpreting loading-response relationships. 

Key products

Sierszen, M.E., J.C. Brazner, J.A. Morrice, G.S. Peterson, and A.S. Trebitz. Watershed and lake influences on the energetic base of coastal wetland food webs across the Great Lakes Basin. Journal of Great Lakes Research, in press.

Morrice, J.A., A.S. Trebitz, J.R. Kelly, M.E. Sierszen, A.M. Cotter, and T.P. Hollenhorst. Hydrologic factors determining linkages of Great Lakes coastal wetlands to watershed and lake, oral presentation, 54th International Conference on Great Lakes Research, Duluth, MN, May 30-June 2, 2011.

Morrice, J.A. , A.S. Trebitz, J.R. Kelly, M.E. Sierzen, A.M. Cotter, and T.P. Hollenhorst. Determining sources of water and nutrients to Great Lakes coastal wetlands: A classification approach. Journal of Great Lakes Research, in press.

Trebitz, A.S., J.C. Brazner, D.K. Tanner, and R. Meyer. Interacting watershed size and landcover influences on habitat and biota of Lake Superior coastal wetlands. Aquatic Ecosystem Health & Management, Special Issue, in press.

Morrice, J.A., A.S. Trebitz, J.R. Kelly, A.M. Cotter, and M.L. Knuth. 2009. Nutrient variability in Lake Superior coastal wetlands: the role of land use and hydrology. In: M. Munawar and I.F. Munawar, Eds., State of Lake Superior, Ecovision World Monograph Series, Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management Society, Burlington, ON, Canada, pp. 217-238.

Morrice, J.A, N.P. Danz, R.R. Regal, J.R. Kelly, G.J. Niemi, E.D. Reavie, T.P. Hollenhorst, R.P. Axler, A.S. Trebitz, A.M. Cotter, and G.S. Peterson. 2008. Human influences on water quality in Great Lakes coastal wetlands. Environmental Management 41:347-357.

Peterson, G.S., M.E. Sierszen, P.M. Yurista, and J.R. Kelly.  2007.  Stable nitrogen isotopes of plankton and benthos reflect landscape-level influences on Great Lakes coastal ecosystems.  Journal of Great Lakes Research 33(si3):27-41.

Trebitz, A.S., J.C. Brazner, A.M. Cotter, M.L. Knuth, J.A. Morrice, G.S. Peterson, M.A. Sierszen, J.A. Thompson, and J.R. Kelly.  2007.  Water quality in Great Lakes coastal wetlands: Basin-wide patterns and response to an anthropogenic disturbance gradient. Journal of Great Lakes Research 33(si3):67-85.

Hill, B.H., C.M. Elonen, T.M. Jicha, A.M. Cotter, A.S. Trebitz, and N.P. Danz.  2006.  Sediment microbial enzyme activity as an indicator of nutrient limitation in Great Lakes coastal wetlands.  Freshwater Biology 51:1670-1683.

Sierszen, M.E., G.S. Peterson, A.S. Trebitz, J.C. Brazner, and C.W. West.  2006.  Hydrology and nutrient effects on food web structure in ten Lake Superior coastal wetlands.  Wetlands 26:951-964.

Sierszen, M.E., J.A. Thompson, J.A. Morrice, G.S. Peterson,  A.M. Cotter, A.S. Trebitz, M.L. Knuth, J.R. Kelly. 2006. Great Lakes coastal wetland food web responses to nutrient loading and ecosystem classification factors. EPA/600/X-06/009.

Morrice, J.A, J.R. Kelly, A.S. Trebitz, A.M. Cotter, and M.L. Knuth. 2004. Temporal dynamics of nutrients (N and P) and hydrology in a Lake Superior coastal wetland. Journal of Great Lakes Research 30 (Suppl. 1):82–96.

Project personnel


Name E-mail Phone
Mike Sierszen sierszen.mike@epa.gov 218-529-5199
Jo Thompson thompson.jo@epa.gov 218-529-5198
Anett Trebitz trebitz.anett@epa.gov 218-529-5209
Greg Peterson    
Anne Cotter    
Mike Knuth    
Brian Hill    
Jack Kelly    

Research project update date

April 24, 2008

Research and Development Home || NHEERL Home || Grosse Ile Home


Local Navigation


Jump to main content.