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      A multi agency project funded by US EPA's STAR Program
 

Frequently asked questions about GLEI

Q1 Who are we?
Q2 What is the goal of this study?
Q3 What is an environmental indicator?
Q4 How are environmental indicators used?
Q5 Give me an example of an indicator and its use.
Q6 What is unique about this study?
Q7 Why the focus on Great Lakes coasts?
Q8 Where will this research be taking place?
Q9 How will the study results be used?
Q10 What this study is NOT:
Q11 Funded by:

Q1 Who are we?
  We are a group of university researchers from across the Great Lakes basin with expertise in birds, amphibians, fish, aquatic insects, algae, wetland plants, and water quality.
Q2 What is the goal of this study?
  We are developing and testing more sensitive environmental indicators for assessing the condition of Great Lakes coastal wetlands and shoreline habitats. We are focusing on indicators of habitat and ecosystem condition for the plants and animals inhabiting Great Lakes shorelines.
Q3 What is an environmental indicator?
  An environmental indicator tells us about the condition of an ecosystem. A good indicator is relatively easy and inexpensive to measure and gives a clear signal of condition. Animal and plant communities often make good indicators because healthy plant and animal communities require quality habitat and ecosystems.
Q4 How are environmental indicators used?
  Environmental indicators are monitored by federal and state natural resource agencies. Monitoring provides early warning signals of environmental problems, allowing these problems to be solved before they become severe and more expensive or impossible to fix.
Q5 Give me an example of an indicator and its use.
 

In the early 1970s our national symbol, the bald eagle, was classified as endangered in the lower 48 states, with fewer than 1000 breeding pairs remaining. The low bald eagle population was the environmental indicator that alerted scientists to a much larger problem, namely the harmful effects of certain industrial chemicals on animals that consume contaminated fish. This indicator was the impetus for scientists to do the monitoring and research that has led to much better understanding and control of industrial chemicals in the environment.

The fortunate result is that bald eagle populations are climbing in the lower 48 states. A less obvious, but important, result is that other creatures susceptible to contaminants accumulated in fish, such as minks, humans, and other birds of prey, are also benefiting from these lower contaminant levels.

Q6 What is unique about this study?
  Scientists are developing better, more sophisticated ways of evaluating the condition of our natural resources. Although the bald eagle is a success story, by the time we became aware that the bald eagle was in danger, the problem was critical and very expensive to solve. In this study, scientists are developing a complex of indicators that evaluate many aspects of the natural community, including plants, animals, and their habitats. The end result will be a set of environmental indicators that will provide an earlier warning of developing problems.
Q7 Why the focus on Great Lakes coasts?
  Great Lakes shorelines are important habitat for fish, birds, and other plants and animals. About 75% of Great Lakes fish species use coastal wetlands for some portion of their life cycles; thus their populations are linked to the condition of the coastal margins.
Q8 Where will this research be taking place?
  We will be working at randomly selected sites along the whole United States portion of the Great Lakes shoreline, from Duluth, Minnesota, to Watertown, New York. Most fieldwork will take place during the summers of 2001-2003.
Q9 How will the study results be used?
  We will analyze the data from our randomly selected study sites to determine which combinations of animal and plant communities and water quality measurements are the best indicators of condition and the most cost-effective for state and federal agencies to monitor. Information will also be provided to other groups in the Great Lakes community interested in monitoring coastal margin conditions in their area.
Q10 What this study is NOT:
  This study is not focusing on any individual shoreline areas or plots of land. We are not identifying critical habitat, looking for endangered species, or identifying areas to preserve. We are simply conducting research to develop better methods for state and federal agencies and citizen groups to use for future monitoring of Great Lakes coastal margin condition.
Q11 Funded by:
  A grant from the Estuarine and Great Lakes (EaGLe) initiative of the US EPA. The EaGLe initiative is funding similar projects on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts of the United States.