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Landscape Indicators for Pesticides Study for Mid-Atlantic Coastal Streams


Project Goals

This project is the first study in a long term, national research program,  the Landscape Indicators for Pesticides Studies (LIPS). The project is being conducted in the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Streams (Figure 1 - Coastal Plain Watershed).  The U.S. Geological Survey is collaborating in the study through the National Water Quality Assessment Program. The main goal of the project is to develop landscape indicator models, also termed "landscape indicators," for pesticides, nutrients, and toxic chemicals in stream water and sediments. Landscape indicator model development involves the statistical comparison of physical or biological data characterizing streams (e.g., nutrient, pesticide, or toxic chemical concentrations, or biotic community composition and abundance), with corresponding spatial information for the stream and its valley. Besides surficial landscape features such as land cover, slope, and stream features, this study will include data on soils and hydrogeologic conditions in the analyses.


With the experience gained from evaluating existing data, this study was designed to obtain collocated water quality, bed sediments, physical habitat, and benthic macroinvertebrate samples for first-order watersheds for a variety of geologic, hydrologic, and landscape settings, grouped by hydrogeologic conditions. The hydrogeologic conditions have been synthesized into a generalized framework of information on physiography, bulk texture of surficial sediments, topography, and subcropping geology (Figure 2 - Hydrogeological Framework).  Seven units have been delineated within the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain. Each has relatively consistent, natural processes which are expected to govern the interchange of chemicals between surface and ground waters. Watersheds will be chosen to provide a variety of undeveloped to developed land cover types and rates of pesticide use (Figure 3 - MRLC Land use/Land Cover Data for Coastal Plain) and (Figure 4 - Agricultural Chemical Application Rates by County). Zones of tidal influence will be avoided (Figure 5 - Zones of Tidal Influence). The field study will take place during the spring, providing a one-time-only "snapshot" of streams across the entire area. Water samples will be collected under conditions which represent shallow ground water contributions to the streams (Figure 6 - USGS crew collecting water sample). Measurements proposed include pesticides, pesticide metabolites, nutrients, and major ions, for stream water; physical habitat surrounding the stream at the sampling point; benthic macroinvertebrate community composition and abundance; and pesticides and metals in bed sediments. Benthic macroinvertebrates, or benthos, are immature insects such as stonefly and mayfly nymphs, and crayfish, clams, snails, and worms which live on logs and rocks in streams. These data and indices based on these data will be the dependent variables, or response variables, in the landscape indicator models to be developed using independent variables such as land cover, topography, soil type, geologic and hydrologic characteristics, population density, length of roads in watersheds, and mean distance between roads and streams. The hydrogeologic framework unit will be evaluated as an explanatory variable in the landscape indicator models. In addition, the differences in results among the hydrogeologic framework units will be used to evaluate the hypotheses underlying the delineation of the units. This project is funded by the EPA and the U.S. Geological Survey National Water Quality Assessment program, and is sharing data with other EPA projects within the same geographic area. When the study is complete, the data will be available to the public.

Significance of Research

In areas with substantial agriculture, industry, or urban development, pesticides and nutrients, industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and other chemicals can affect water quality and biota in streams. The landscape setting, and the relative proportions of land uses combined with the topography and related physical features, are expected to be a significant factor in assessing a watershed’s vulnerability to these stressors. Landscape indicators can characterize the landscape setting by statistically combining and summarizing relevant spatial data. Since measurements are not possible in every watershed because of cost and practical constraints, these landscape indicators may offer a means to efficiently estimate the vulnerability of streams to pesticides, nutrients, and other chemicals in the Mid-Atlantic Coastal Plain. In addition, identifying potential "hot spots," performing area-wide assessments, and testing of "what-if" scenarios are possible with landscape indicators (Figure 7 - Information flow and products for LIPS-MACS).


Links to Related Information


U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Office of Research and Development   U.S. Geological Survey
Water Resources Division Baltimore District Office

National Exposure Research Laboratory
Environmental Sciences Division
Las Vegas, Nevada
Ecological Exposure Research Division  
Cincinnati, Ohio
Ecosystems Research Division 
Athens, Georgia

National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory

Western Ecology Division 
Corvallis, Oregon

National Risk Management Research Laboratory

Subsurface Protection and Remediation Division
Ada, Oklahoma

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