Application of a three-tier framework to assess ecological condition of Gulf of Mexico coastal wetlands
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A multi-level coastal wetland assessment strategy was applied to wetlands in the northern Gulf of Mexico (GOM) to evaluate the feasibility of this approach for a broad national scale wetland condition assessment (US Environmental Protection Agency’s National Wetlands Condition Assessment). Landscape-scale assessment indicators (tier 1) were developed and applied at the sub-watershed (12-digit hydrologic unit code (HUC)) level within the GOM coastal wetland sample frame with scores calculated using land-use maps and geographic information system. Rapid assessment protocols (tier 2), using a combination of data analysis and field work, evaluated metrics associated with landscape context, hydrology, physical structure, and biological structure. Intensive site monitoring (tier 3) included measures of soil chemistry and composition, water column and pore-water chemistry, and dominant macrophyte community composition and tissue chemistry. Relationships within and among assessment levels were evaluated using multivariate analyses with few significant correlations found. More detailed measures of hydrology, soils, and macrophyte species composition from sites across a known condition gradient, in conjunction with validation of standardized rapid assessment method, may be necessary to fully characterize coastal wetlands across the region.
KeywordsCondition assessment Gulf of Mexico Multi-level assessment Wetland
We would like to thank A. Almario, B. Boshart, G. Craven, K. Cretini, D. Dantin, R. Day, A. Diz, B. Gossman, K. Kaack, T. Heitmuller, M. Kaintz, S. Merino, E. Milbrandt, P. O’Donnell, J. Pahl, S. Piazza, A. Piehler, G. Snedden, G. Steyer, and J. Troutman for field and lab support. We sincerely thank Y. Allen and P. Bourgeois for assistance with survey design, landscape analyses, and persistence in obtaining permission to sample study sites. We thank R. Gibble, G. Serenbetz, and several anonymous reviewers for constructive comments on earlier drafts. For site access, map data, and general guidance, thanks go to the private landowners and public land managers throughout the Gulf region where the probabilistic survey points were located. Sincere appreciation is also given to the Louisiana Department of Natural Resources Coastal Restoration Division, USGS-NWRC Coastal Restoration Field Station (Baton Rouge), Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, J. Collins, M. Sutula, and all the participants in the 2006 Gulf of Mexico Coastal Wetlands Survey Design and Indicator Development Workshop for insight and recommendations to the best approaches and available technology to assess the condition of wetlands within the northern Gulf of Mexico coastal region. The information in this document has been funded by the US Environmental Protection Agency. It has been subjected to review by the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory and approved for publication. Approval does not signify that the contents reflect the views of the Agency nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.
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