Edward Rutherford - NOAA GLERL
NOAA’s coastal and marine resources program and fisheries habitat programs require inventory and mapping of biological, chemical, physical and ecological attributes of coastal habitats in order to develop management plans and policies to protect Great Lakes resources from anthropogenic stressors. A priority research area for NOAA’s ecosystems observations program is to generate and manage data and information necessary for conducting Integrated Ecosystem Assessments (IEAs) and risk analyses. A Geographic Information System (GIS) database for Great Lakes aquatic habitats will facilitate IEAs and aid managers to assess threats to coastal resources and understand ecosystem structure and function.
Increase number of habitat acres conserved or restored; Increase number of protected species that reach stable or increasing population levels.
We propose to refine an existing GIS database for Great Lakes aquatic habitats to include the wealth of data collected by NOAA GLERL on physical and biological data. The Great Lakes GIS project (GLGIS) now includes GIS databases for each Great Lake, but lacks several recent databases including: satellite imagery of chlorophyll a and turbidity for all Great Lakes, benthos densities and species composition in Lake Huron, Lake Michigan and Lake Erie for recent years, IFYLE data on fish, zooplankton and dissolved oxygen in Lake Erie; biota and physical characteristics of Saginaw Bay; distributions at depth, is GIS database. We will make these data into the spatial framework of the GL GIS, revise existing ecoregion classifications of aquatic habitat, and assign variables to spatial units.
Management directed towards long-term sustainability of aquatic resources should in part be based on a fundamental understanding of functional relationships between species and their critical habitats on the appropriate spatial and temporal scales. While GIS–based ecological classifications have been developed for many terrestrial and riverine systems in the Great Lakes basin, to date there has been little development of ecoregions directed at the Great Lakes themselves, although spatially–explicit data and methods are now available. Advances in hydro–acoustic and remote–sensing technology (i.e. AVHRR, which estimates sea surface temperature; SEAWIFS, which estimates chlorophyll a concentrations) have encouraged collection of spatially–explicit estimates of fish production, primary and secondary production, and abiotic factors (i.e. wind, currents, temperature) in the Great Lakes. Examination of these data sets, along with analysis of historic fisheries data will facilitate understanding of patterns in distribution and abundance of important sport fishes and their prey. Ecological classification of nearshore and offshore habitat regions will establish reference conditions for monitoring aquatic species and their habitats at the relevant spatial scales. Development of habitat suitability models for selected aquatic species will address knowledge gaps that hinder species management and restoration.
The Great Lakes Geographic Information System (GLGIS) provides a standard, basin–wide platform for inventory, classification, and holistic management of aquatic species and their habitats. The GLGIS will provide a planning tool needed by the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration to access and query habitat data on a landscape scale to implement management and restoration strategies. Development of aquatic habitat databases and maps will eliminate information gaps for aquatic species, landscape features, ecological processes, and threats (invasive species).
Enhancing the Great Lakes GIS for an IEA of coastal anthropogenic stressors will aide development of operational management plans to provide and enhance habitat for aquatic species of greatest conservation need. The project will provide comprehensive GIS projects containing data on habitat and distributions of selected species for each Great Lake. Existing GIS databases (i.e., Huron, Superior, Michigan, Erie) range in size from 40–60 GB, and are stored on individual hard drives. These databases can be distributed individually or collectively, facilitating a basin–wide, holistic approach. Data are not limited to GIS files. Microsoft Access databases, biological index tables, and images (e.g., aerial photographs, nautical charts, topographic maps) are also part of the repository.
Development and attribution of ecological habitat classifications with physical, chemical and biological data will facilitate forecasts of impacts from invasive species, climate change or land use change on Great Lakes habitats and species. Although development of an IEA for anthropogenic factors facing coastal habitats will not produce forecasts, it will facilitate scenario development. Scenarios can give representations of possible future change to the ecosystem, and can aid identification of priority conservation targets, ecosystem attributes and management plans.