ACE INC is part
of the
Estuarine and Great Lakes (EaGLe) Coastal Initiative.

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EaGLe website.

Our primary objectives include:

· Enhance the archive of existing data for these systems with remotely sensed and time-series information on key variables

· Exploit detailed knowledge of ecosystem structure and function to synthesize this archive and develop candidate indicators

· Test the ability of these indicators to gauge ecosystem health and unambiguously detect trends resulting from both natural variability and anthropogenic stresses in multiple estuaries.

Our research plan includes the development of:

· Indicators of microalgal and macrophyte functional groups controlling much of estuarine and coastal primary production

· Indicators capable of determining plankton and fish community structure (organization) and function, specifically indices that relate to trophic transfer and sustainable higher trophic levels

· Coupling these biological indicators to physical-chemical and remote sensing assessments of ecosystem function, trophic state and change

· Developing and applying indicators and assessments within a national coastal indicator framework (EPA-EaGLe Program

These indicators form the backbone of ecosystem, regional and national water quality, habitat assessment and living resources monitoring and modeling efforts (Table 1). These indicators will serve to calibrate and ground truth aircraft and satellite remote sensing of estuarine and coastal resources, including plant community structure, function, and ecological health. These phytoplankton, marsh and seagrass proxies will be linked with metrics of trophic structure to provide indicators of living resources status.

The present lack of established, regional and national bio-indicators, despite extensive monitoring at thousands of sites nationwide and specific community efforts to develop bio-indicators, is testimony to the magnitude and complexity of the task ahead. We feel that prior efforts toward this ambitious goal have shown that the most promising avenue to success must link theoretical constructs and empirical relationships.

We operate on the premise that, “An indicator is a sign or signal that relays a complex message potentially from numerous sources, in a simplified and useful manner. An ecological indicator is... a measure, an index of measures, or a model that characterizes one or several critical components of ecosystem structure and function... With a foundation of diagnostic research, an ecological indicator may also be used to identify major ecosystem stress (Jackson et al., 1999).” As it is likely that different types of coastal systems differ in their response to anthropogenic or naturally-induced stresses, we require a framework for assessing status and predicting responses for each of the major system types. The challenge is to produce concise and accurate representations of ecosystem function and “health” based on key variables, to detect trends in this “health”, and to use these indicators to predict the effects of human actions vs. natural variability across a variety of systems, both regionally and nationally.

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Institutional Partners:


UNC -
Chapel Hill