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Science Notebook: Wetlands in the Pacific Northwest - If You Were the Scientist

Once you've listened to our podcast with Dr. Tim O'Higgins and learned about ecosystem services, put on your scientist hat and see if you can think like an estuarine ecologist working in the Pacific Northwest by taking these two quizzes.

Designing a field study in the Pacific Northwest

The mayor and his city's resource manager request your advice on where to locate a new marina. They are aware that some estuarine habitats play more crucial roles than others by, for example, providing a special niche for rare or endangered species, high diversity, or important ecosystem services, such as food production, erosion protection and nutrient cycling.

Here's what you know about some of the habitats:

Native eelgrass (Zostera marina) habitat provides erosion protection and feeding and nursery grounds for many important fish and shellfish of commercial and recreational importance. Oyster habitat is important because oysters are cultured and harvested for human consumption. Oysters also help prevent eutrophication (i.e., high nutrient levels causing excessive plant growth and decay).

Little is known, however, about the ecological resource values of the other estuarine habitats, including a non-native eelgrass species (Zostera japonica), two burrowing shrimp species (Upogebia pugettensis and Neotrypaea californiensis) and bare sand and bare mud habitat.

You have a map showing the distribution of all the major habitats in the estuary. How would you advise the mayor and the resource manager regarding the design a field study to help predict the effect of a new marina on ecological resources in the estuary?

Sample where you think the new marina should be located and where you think the new marina should not be located.

Sample randomly in native eelgrass and oyster habitat to confirm and better quantify what is known.

Sample randomly in the habitats for which little is known.

Sample randomly in all the habitats potentially impacted by the new marina.

Sample randomly in all the habitats.


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Making resource management decisions in the Pacific Northwest

The mayor has taken your advice and has commissioned an animal study of all the potentially impacted habitats. He has also commissioned a study to determine suitable geographic locations for a new marina. From the latter, two sites (sites A and B) were deemed suitable.

At site A, one fourth of the area is native eelgrass (Zostera marina) habitat, one fourth is burrowing mud shrimp (Upogebia pugettensis) habitat, one fourth is burrowing ghost shrimp (Neotrypaea californiensis) habitat, and one fourth is bare sand habitat.

At site B, half of the area is native eelgrass and half is bare sand habitat.

Several criteria (presence of endangered species, diversity, species richness and abundance, etc.) will be used in making the site selection. One criterion is minimization of the new marina's impact on fish and shellfish abundance in the estuary.

From the results of the animal study, we learned that fish and shellfish abundance was, on average, 25× greater in native eelgrass habitat, 6× greater in mud shrimp habitat, and 3× greater in ghost shrimp habitat than in bare sand habitat.

Which of the two sites supports less fish and shellfish, and, therefore, would have less impact on their abundance if chosen as the site for the new marina?

Site A

Site B

Sites A and B are equal in terms of their support of fish and shellfish, and, therefore, they would have the same impact on the abundance of fish and shellfish if chosen as the site of the new marina.


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