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  3. NREM Faculty - Timothy J. O'Connell — Natural Resource Ecology and Management
  4. Mid-Atlantic Freshwater Wetlands: Advances in Wetlands Science, Management, Policy, and Practice

A review of the literature comparing reference wetlands to mitigation projects continues to indicate the latter are not reaching the functional performance of natural wetlands. Hydrophytes, or wetland plants, are the most conspicuous and perhaps most colorful element of wetland systems. In the mid-Atlantic region, hydrophytes have been the focus of many studies, resulting in a wealth of information on wetland classification, vegetation stressors, and plant-based assessment tools.

For example, exploration of the relationship between hydrophytes and the physical aspects of wetlands has led to a new hydrogeomorphic classification of headwater systems that combines three previously distinct classes.

Freshwater Wetlands ESS

Studies of stressors have shown that plants respond differentially to human-mediated disturbances in the surrounding landscape. Reed canary grass Phalaris arundinacea , a native but highly invasive wetland grass in regional wetlands, exhibits increased establishment, growth, and biomass in response to nutrient additions, and surprisingly, in some instances, to increased sedimentation, while blue vervain Verbena hastata , a denizen of freshwater wetland habitats, is intolerant of increased sediment loading. Hydrophtyes have also served as the foundation for some of the most powerful wetland assessment tools in the region.

Floristic Quality Assessment FQA and biotic indices have been developed by a number of states within the region and in the case of FQA, for the region as a whole. This chapter examines the role of hydrophytes in these studies, as well as spotlights invasive and special status wetland species found in wetland habitats in the region. Sarah J. Chamberlain, Denice Heller Wardrop, M. Siobhan Fennessy, Doug DeBerry. The Mid-Atlantic Region MAR encompasses five major physiographic regions or ecoregions ranging from coastal habitats to mountainous terrain.

The topography is further differentiated and dissected by several major river basins draining into the Delaware, Susquehanna-Chesapeake, Ohio-Mississippi, and Great Lakes. The biological diversity of the MAR reflects this inherent habitat diversity, with wetland—riparian species well represented.

This array of diverse taxa is introduced here, with abundant links to prior studies and pub lications, and websites to guide the reader to these sources. Wetland-riparian birds are conspicuous in the Mid-Atlantic Region MAR , but sometimes use aquatic habitats beyond what is typical for waterfowl, waterbirds, and shorebirds. Over the past two decades, Riparia conducted studies to determine the importance of wetlands and riparian corridors as habitats for birds covering the range from obligate to facultative users.

We sampled wetlands used by wood ducks and other waterfowl species common to the Appalachians.

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We surveyed lakes and their associated fringing wetlands and riparian edges in the glaciated Pocono region. Songbirds were sampled along human disturbance gradients from wetlands into adjacent uplands. In addition, our work developed and tested an innovative way to consider biodiversity through the component life history traits of species in communities—a guild-based approach.

The quantification of differences in the life history composition of different communities led to the development of a class of ecological indicators called the Bird Community Index BCI. The chapter progresses through studies of birds using wetland habitats, beginning with obligate species and progressing through facultative users.

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We conclude with a summary of projects and monitoring protocols that use the BCI for ecological assessment, and a description of emerging issues that make such assessments a conservation imperative for the MAR. Timothy J. Brooks, Diann J. Prosser, Mary T. Gaudette, Joseph P. Gyekis, Kimberly C.

NREM Faculty - Timothy J. O'Connell — Natural Resource Ecology and Management

Farrell, Mary Jo Casalena. The dependency of many amphibian and reptile species on aquatic habitats is well known. Here, we summarize four studies that investigated aspects of herptile life histories and developed models and tools to assess their responses to disturbance and changing environmental conditions. The AIBI demonstrated how amphibian species are significantly and negatively affected by changes in land use, and how conserving an intact wetland-riparian corridor is extremely important for maintaining amphibian biodiversity.

A study of pond-breeding assemblages of amphibians in the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area demonstrated their response to a hydrologic gradient of connectivity. The degree of pond isolation, as defined by hydrologic connectivity, land use, and predator access, significantly impacted these assemblages, and thus, can be used as predictors of amphibian species occurrence.

This study confirmed the importance of protecting isolated wetlands in the landscape. A third study investigated the response of the stream-dwelling plethodontid salamanders to acidified conditions caused by atmospheric deposition and acid mine drainage in western Pennsylvania. This study revealed that stream plethodontid abundance, presence, and diversity were severely suppressed in acidified environments.

The value of stream salamanders as a bioindicator was confirmed by this and a subsequent study of similar assemblages throughout the Mid-Atlantic Highlands. The final study involved development of a Habitat Conservation Plan HCP for the federally threatened bog turtle, a wetland-dependent reptile with a stronghold in southeastern Pennsylvania and northwestern Delaware.

Teams of investigators from multiple organizations assessed ecological, legal, socioeconomic, and land management factors to arrive at a recommended HCP. A process to locate and operate conservation banks in prime recovery areas was established.


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Through a system of credit generation, critically important habitats for breeding colonies of bog turtle would be protected. Freshwater macroinvertebrates are an extremely diverse and adaptive group of organisms that have successfully invaded virtually every type of aquatic habitat. Early research revealed that the HGM classification was insufficient in controlling natural variation, making it difficult to assess community responses to anthropogenic disturbance. This prompted an effort to develop a more ecologically relevant habitat classification for MAR wetland macroinvertebrates. The remainder of the chapter presents a case study of this habitat approach applied to headwater and floodplain complexes.

First, we defined the riverine hierarchy by building on existing classification schemes and adding a level, the aquatic ecological set , to differentiate between habitats structured by flow, flood, and groundwater pulses. Next, we compiled the macroinvertebrate data collected from all aquatic habitats within reference-standard floodplain reaches and did an exploratory analysis, which revealed six major habitat types: riffle, other baseflow, and flow pulse habitats in the active zone, flood pulse habitats in the floodplain, seasonal groundwater, and temporary habitats.

Further comparison with impacted riverine complexes indicated these systems respond to anthropogenic disturbance primarily through changes in hydrological connectivity and hydroperiod. The end result is loss of flow pulse habitats, floodplain terrestrialization, and loss of heterogeneity in wetland habitats, the latter primarily through a shift from seasonal to either permanent or ephemeral hydroperiods.

Understanding the origins of current monitoring and assessment strategies and techniques for wetlands in the United States provides useful perspectives on how wetlands are both similar and different from other waters and allows us to take advantage of the lessons learned across all aquatic resources. We describe the role of regional forums in the evolution and development of these tools and in the building of support for their programmatic integration in the Mid-Atlantic Region MAR. We then tell the story of their use and application at a variety of spatial scales, including site-level mitigation applications in Pennsylvania, watershed application in the Upper Juniata Watershed, regional application in the MAR, and, finally, national application in the National Wetland Condition Assessment NWCA.

Denice Heller Wardrop, Mary E. Kentula, Robert P. Brooks, M. Siobhan Fennessy, Sarah J. Chamberlain, Kirk J. Havens, Carl Hershner.

Mid-atlantic freshwater wetlands: Advances in wetlands science, management, policy, and practice

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