Scientists from Central Michigan University's Institute for Great Lakes Research recently received $274,157 in combined grant monies from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin Sea Grant. The funding will be used to enhance current research of a basin-wide Great Lakes coastal wetlands monitoring program, the first study of its kind.
As part of a 5-year, $10 million EPA grant, IGLR researchers are taking the lead and using collected data to develop a mathematical decision-making tool to monitor and assess the health of Great Lakes coastal wetlands.
“Coastal wetlands are important because they trap, process, and retain nutrients and sediment,” said Donald Uzarski, IGLR director and professor of biology. “Unfortunately, half of them have been converted to other land uses, with the remaining wetlands being impacted by invasive species, fragmentation, nutrient loading and hydrologic manipulation.”
Interest in coastal wetlands protection and restoration has increased dramatically in recent years due to recognition of their ecological value and their extensive degradation.
CMU researchers are taking the lead on two of the three grants received and with the help of University of Notre Dame researchers, will be able to aid wetlands managers and coastal resource decision makers in systematically prioritizing Great Lakes coastal wetlands protection and restoration.
They also will be able to help assess the importance of coastal wetlands as they relate to the food web of the Great Lakes ecosystem by studying otoliths, or fish ear bones, to determine where fish are obtaining energy for growth.
Otoliths grow daily, similar to rings found in the trunk of a tree. With the use of a precise laser beam, IGLR researchers can sample the chemical composition of targeted areas of the otoliths and relate this “chemical fingerprint” to specific coastal wetlands, even when fish are caught in the open water of the Great Lakes, far from any wetlands.
It is hoped that this research will result in a long-term, sustainable monitoring program aimed at restoring and protecting Great Lakes coastal wetlands, which provide a critical habitat for many species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, and an essential spawning and nursery habitat for many fish species of ecological and economical importance to Michigan’s $7.5 billion commercial and sports fishing industry.
The decision-making tool that scientists from the Institute for Great Lakes Research are working on will help ensure the greatest return possible on coastal wetlands restoration investments.
Central Michigan University is a recognized leader in studying the Great Lakes, with more than 20 faculty in the Institute for Great Lakes Research supported by state-of-the-art facilities in Mount Pleasant and at the CMU Biological Station on Beaver island. A $95 million Biosciences Building due to be completed in 2016 will provide enhanced infrastructure to support faculty and student research and classes.