Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Smithsonian researchers develop models to assess wetland health

Healthy wetlands perform vital ecological functions in a watershed. But assessing their condition and ability to perform those functions is not easy, especially as wetlands are disappearing fast due to human encroachment.

In a special issue of the journal Wetlands, Smithsonian scientists report a promising method of wetland assessment that will help environmental managers quickly take stock of wetlands across an entire watershed. Tools for this kind of rapid watershed-scale assessment—relying on a few easily measurable key factors—have been previously unavailable to managers.

In three papers, Dennis Whigham, Donald Weller and Thomas Jordan of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and their colleagues present the results of a large-scale study that combines field studies and remote-sensing data to assess the ecological functioning of wetlands in a landscape.

The researchers based their study on an approach previously developed for assessing individual sites, called the Hydrogeomorphic (HGM) approach, in which ecological conditions are inferred from readily observable indicators, such as plant species present and the degree of human disturbance.

“We took these methods for assessing wetland functions and expanded them to a whole-landscape scale, which is something that has not been effectively done before,” said Whigham, who coordinated the project. “These days, most land managers are not asking how to understand what is going on in an individual wetland, they want to manage resources at a much larger scale.”

Wetlands are important buffers for flood control, can absorb pollutants and excess nutrients and provide critical habitats for many plants and animals, including some threatened and endangered species.

For this study, the researchers focused on non-tidal wetlands in the Nanticoke River watershed of Maryland and Delaware. Draining into the Chesapeake Bay, the Nanticoke system is one of the most biologically important and wetland-rich watersheds in the mid-Atlantic region. Wetlands are found along streams (riverine wetlands) and in poorly drained uplands called “flats.”

During the first year of the project, the researchers visited wetlands of both types, taking field measurements and observations according to the HGM protocol at more than 100 sites. They used the data to formulate models to rate the condition of the sites, which ranged from nearly undisturbed to highly degraded. The sites were chosen according to a statistical procedure developed by the Environmental Protection Agency to ensure that they were representative of the entire landscape.

For a subset of the sites, the researchers took a closer look at one important ecological function of wetlands: the cycling of nutrients, particularly nitrogen. Many watersheds are overloaded in nutrients due to runoff from agricultural fields and other sources. The result is diminished water quality. But soils in healthy wetlands contain bacteria that remove excess nitrogen by a process called denitrification and can restore water quality.

“We found that you can predict denitrification potential from some fairly easy-to-measure properties of the soil, such as percent organic matter or pH,” said Jordan, who led this portion of the study.

As a final step, the researchers took the results of the field assessments and compared them with digital maps and remotely sensed data, such as satellite land cover images.

“The idea was to develop statistical models that would successfully predict what was observed in the field,” said Weller, whose lab performed the analysis. “Once you’ve developed the models, you then can assess additional wetlands without having to go out and sample them,” he added. While the models cannot predict the precise conditions at a given site, they can provide enough information to identify potentially degraded areas and help guide management priorities in a watershed.

Kimbra Cutlip | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation:

nachricht Dispersal of Fish Eggs by Water Birds – Just a Myth?
19.02.2018 | Universität Basel

nachricht Removing fossil fuel subsidies will not reduce CO2 emissions as much as hoped
08.02.2018 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Ecology, The Environment and Conservation >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Space observation with radar to secure Germany's space infrastructure

Satellites in near-Earth orbit are at risk due to the steady increase in space debris. But their mission in the areas of telecommunications, navigation or weather forecasts is essential for society. Fraunhofer FHR therefore develops radar-based systems which allow the detection, tracking and cataloging of even the smallest particles of debris. Satellite operators who have access to our data are in a better position to plan evasive maneuvers and prevent destructive collisions. From April, 25-29 2018, Fraunhofer FHR and its partners will exhibit the complementary radar systems TIRA and GESTRA as well as the latest radar techniques for space observation across three stands at the ILA Berlin.

The "traffic situation" in space is very tense: the Earth is currently being orbited not only by countless satellites but also by a large volume of space...

Im Focus: Researchers Discover New Anti-Cancer Protein

An international team of researchers has discovered a new anti-cancer protein. The protein, called LHPP, prevents the uncontrolled proliferation of cancer cells in the liver. The researchers led by Prof. Michael N. Hall from the Biozentrum, University of Basel, report in “Nature” that LHPP can also serve as a biomarker for the diagnosis and prognosis of liver cancer.

The incidence of liver cancer, also known as hepatocellular carcinoma, is steadily increasing. In the last twenty years, the number of cases has almost doubled...

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

New solar solutions for sustainable buildings and cities

23.03.2018 | Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

For graphite pellets, just add elbow grease

23.03.2018 | Materials Sciences

Unique communication strategy discovered in stem cell pathway controlling plant growth

23.03.2018 | Agricultural and Forestry Science

Sharpening the X-ray view of the nanocosm

23.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>