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Human communities benefit from Great Lakes coastal ecosystems

Description/Rationale and Research Approach:

We are developing tools and information to help Great Lakes coastal communities measure the ecological, social, and economic benefits they receive from cleaning up sediments and restoring fish and wildlife habitats. By understanding the benefits coming from the environment, communities can prioritize clean-up and restoration projects and make land use and waste management decisions that sustain benefits. In some cases, the benefits from restoration and remediation projects are not realized immediately or directly by the local community. That is why to have real impact decisions must consider multiple scales of space and time. Our work is progressing from simply describing the goods, services, and benefits provided by Great Lakes coastal environments to predicting specific outcomes from sediment remediation and habitat restoration projects. At a metropolitan-scale, we are working in the St. Louis River estuary which is an internationally-designated Area of Concern at the western end of Lake Superior. The estuary contains the Port of Duluth-Superior and surrounding urban areas. However, the majority of the estuary’s watershed is rural and forested. Over time, industrialization and urbanization have resulted in sediment contamination and the degradation of fish and wildlife habitats. We are working with federal, state, and local partners to predict the how cleaning up sediments can reduce the flow of contaminants through fish to consumers, including people, and how wetlands provide recreational benefits and improved water quality. Documenting the benefits from remediation and restoration projects is important for delisting the estuary as an Area of Concern. At the basin-scale, we are capitalizing on a partnership with an EPA-funded assessment of all coastal wetlands in the Great Lakes. The assessment includes measurements of fish, invertebrates, birds, water quality, and vegetation condition. We are relating wetland condition to the use of wetlands by game fish. Because fish are mobile, habitat or sediments quality in distant parts of a lake may affect their recreational or food value to local communities. Our research will help resource managers and the public understand how communities can benefit from change in the conditions of sediment and habitat locally and across the lakes. This will help target restoration and remediation investments to the places where they may have the most impact.

MED Scientists:

David Bolgrien 
Ted Angradi
Tim Corry
Anne Cotter
Joel Hoffman
Tom Hollenhorst
Mark Pearson
Greg Peterson
Mike Sierszen
Deb Taylor
Anett Trebitz


Hoffman, J.C. Tracing the origins, migrations and other movements of fish using stable isotopes. Fish Migration (in press).

Angradi, T.R., M.S. Pearson, D.W. Bolgrien, B.J. Bellinger, M.A. Starry, and C. Reschke. 2013. Predicting submerged aquatic vegetation cover and occurrence in a Lake Superior estuary. Journal of Great Lakes Research 39(4): 536-546.

Blazer, V.S., J.C. Hoffman, H.L. Walsh, R.P. Braham, C. Hahn, P. Collins, Z. Jorgenson, and T. Ledder. 2013. Health of white sucker within the St. Louis River area of concern associated with habitat usage as assessed using stable isotopes. Ecotoxicology, online only:DOI 10.1007/s10646-013-1167-5.

Larson, J.H., A.S. Trebitz, A.D. Steiman, M.J. Wiley, M. Carlson-Mazur, V. Pebbles, H. Braun, and P. Seelbach. 2013. Great Lakes rivermouth ecosystems: Scientific synthesis and management implications. Journal of Great Lakes Research 39:513-524.

Sierszen, M.E., J.A. Morrice, A.S. Trebitz, and J.C. Hoffman. 2012. A review of selected ecosystem services provided by coastal wetlands of the Laurentian Great Lakes. Aquatic Ecosystem Health and Management 15(1):92–106.

Expected Products:




2012 Publish an overview of the ecosystem services provided by Great Lakes coastal ecosystems. David Bolgrien
2013 Report on the biophysical basis of ecosystem services in a Great Lakes coastal system. Angradi
2014 Report on how sediment remediation and habitat restoration may alter system-specific biophysical properties and, in turn, alter the availability and distribution of ecosystem services affecting Great Lakes coastal communities. Hoffman/Sierszen

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