Ecosystem Health

Notes on Priorities for the LCRC 9 October 2004 Research Meeting



These notes are not a result of a wider discussion of researchers in the Lake Champlain Basin, but rather summarize the 1999 Priorities and present them in the context of some of the recommendations from the Ecosystem Indicators Project which completed its final report this year.


Priorities 1999


The summary report listed three linked initial priorities, and then a second group of "other priorities."


1) The group was concerned that there was little agreement or understanding about what people in the Basin wanted their lake to look like, and thus sociological research ("social surveys and focus groups") are needed to better inform management.


2) "Research is needed to identify appropriate indicators of ecosystem health…. basic information on reference community composition and the tolerances of organisms to anthropogenic stresses is needed."


3) "Ecological indicators must be linked to management actions in order to evaluate whether our management plan is achieving its goals.  A hierarchy of indicators could be developed to accomplish this goal."


Other priorities included:

a) research on trophic transfer and trophic dynamics with particular reference to whole system modeling of in-lake phosphorus concentrations,

b) research on the ways that zebra mussels are altering the lake ecosystem as a whole,

c) more comprehensive and coordinated data on biological, chemical, and  physical changes in the ecosystem in order to quantify ecosystem impairment,

d) additional studies on the natural history, population dynamics, and habitat needs of species or groups (e.g., amphibians and reptiles) that are not well understood as yet. 


Some Indicator Report Recommendations in the Ecosystem Health arena


The Ecosystem Indicators Report addressed many of the recommendations for priority activities.  A social survey was done as part of that report using a stated preference technique to identify respondent desires for lake condition (priority 1).  Priority 2 was the primary goal of the Indicators study.  The explicit linkage to management (priority 3) was proposed in the Indicators Report through the overarching framework used, the Pressure-State-Response (PSR) model.  This approach links specific human activities with changes in the environment conditions (measured either by direct measurement of a physical/chemical/biological variable, or through an index of multiple variables), and the corresponding management action(s) needed to respond to the change in environmental conditions.  A series of PSR diagrams are presented in the Indicators Report along with a more public "scorecard" describing the current status of the condition/issue. 


Other priorities have been addressed since 1999 through either the Indicators Study or other research in the Basin.  The Indicators Report includes a substantial section on phosphorus modeling for Lake Champlain.  Zebra mussel research has continued on the lake with several studies.  Some additional studies on amphibians and reptiles have been pursued.  However, the largest gap is probably in the area of data on the biological, chemical, and  physical changes in the Lake Champlain Basin ecosystem.  One of the strong recommendations of the Indicators Report was that data availability and coordination (formats, time frames of collection, metadata, etc.) requires significant additional effort in order for the data to meet the needs of any indicator/monitoring program. 


In summary, the priorities identified in the 1999 meetings have provided a good template for the work that has taken place since then.  Many of the priorities have been addressed and it is appropriate at this point in time to establish the next iteration of priorities.  The Indicators Report makes a series of recommendations for work needed to keep better track of the ecosystem health of the Lake Champlain Basin, and these might serve as a starting point for identifying priorities for the next phase of this work.


These are summarized here:


1.  Convene both technical and policy-level workshops to consider the information in this report and select an initial set of indicators for implementation. 


2.  Revise the current monitoring programs among the partner institutions in the LCBP in order to collect the data necessary to implement the indicators program.  We suggest particular attention be paid to adding indicators in the phosphorus, sport fish, and pelagic food web issue areas.


3.  Establish acceptable levels for the state indicators in the Lake Champlain ecosystem indicators program as soon as practical.  Use these levels as a basis for defining acceptable levels of the pressure and response indicators over time.   


4.  Continue to explore the linkages between issue areas in Opportunities for Action and explicitly consider a set of indicators that can capture those linkages. 


5.  Add socio-economic indicators in core issue areas. 


6.  As part of a regular “state of the lake” report, publish a first scorecard for a core set of indicators as soon as practical, and commit to biannual updates of the scorecard and state of the lake report.