In 2012, the South Atlantic Landscape Conservation Cooperative (SALCC) began development of its process to select natural resource indicators and targets as specific landscape scale measures of success for natural resources. An indicator was defined by the SALCC as a metric designed to inform easily and quickly about the conditions of a system, where as a target is a numeric goal established for an indicator. Recommendations were made to the SALCC steering committee in March to recommend indicators for aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. Recommendations were based on input from 235 experts in marine, freshwater and terrestrial resources in the SALCC geography and adjacent LCCs. Indicator recommendations were considered in regards to ecological criteria, such as how well indicators capture key ecosystem elements and major landscape threats; practical criteria, such as the ability to model and monitor, and social criteria, such as how well the indicators resonate with various audiences.
In natural resource management, “indicators” are often used as way to measure change in a species, group of species, or a community as a response to management or restoration actions. For these indicators to accurately index the species or community, i.e., for the indicator to actually indicate what we think it is showing, specific attributes of a species’ population must be chosen for measurement. While ideally a huge suite of attributes for a wide range of species might be known, ranging from demographic parameters to high resolution occupancy data, in reality sampling programs are often limited in terms of taxonometric scope or attributes measured. The primary objective (objective one) of this work is to examine aquatic indicators approved by the steering committee for a wide range of species and test the statistical linkages between these indicators specified and their ability to represent the given ecosystem. A secondary objective (objective two) is to examine integration of aquatic and terrestrial indicators established by the Gulf Coast Plains and Ozarks and South Atlantic LCCs, and explore development of other identified aquatic indicators applicable to the SARP geography.
Aquatic indicators to be examined for the “freshwater aquatic” subgeography includes: the percent of habitat near rivers and streams, percent of impervious cover, and index of biological integrity. Aquatic indicators were also identified for the “waterscapes” category, which specifically examines the connectivity along the watershed from the headwaters to the ocean. Indicators to be examined in this category include an index of fish passage, and the number of dams incorporating natural flow regimes. An additional “second tier” indicator, in-stream flows, was identified as important and should be examined as a possibility for future selection.
Data are readily available for validation of these indicators. A riparian assessment for the entire Southeast was completed by the Southeastern Association Restoration Partnership (SARP) Science and Data Committee in 2010. There are also land use layers readily available for analysis of the percent of impervious cover. In addition, most of the Southeastern states maintain their own indexes of biological integrity on important watersheds. The index of fish passage can be generated with basic available knowledge of major in-stream barriers as can the presence of natural flow regime policies on major barriers.
Validation and testing of these aquatic indicators should assess the ability of SALCC these indicators to correlate with important components of the ecosystem that provide information about ecosystem integrity and habitat quality. In addition, the relationship of indicators to landscape scale threats (land use change, climate change, sea level rise, etc.) should be examined. We plan on developing predictive spatial and statistical models that (1) use existing data on riverine fish and invertebrate communities and in-stream habitat (e.g., flows patterns), landscape factors (e.g., land use type, impervious surface), and observed or predicted water quality data help to identify what ecosystem metrics are common across reference systems within the SALCC (2) assess and screen the utility of the first round of steering committee approved SALCC indicators, (3) and recommend improvements to the SALCC indicator list given predicted changes in climate, rainfall, and land use patterns within the SALCC.
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