As climate events become more extreme and seasonal temperatures reach record highs and lows, less is understood about how these changing trends will impact the natural environment. Estuarine ecosystems are of critical importance, due to the habitat they provide for sensitive species and the key role they play in filtering nutrients before water flows into the oceans and Great Lakes. Although climate models examining sea level rise and other oceanic susceptibilities have garnered much attention in light of climate change, many are left considering what climatic changes might mean for the Great Lakes. Lake Erie is especially susceptible to these impacts, as it is the shallowest and most productive of the Great Lakes. This is largely due to the fact that is the most southern and it is surrounded by the most urban and agricultural lands, relative to the other Great Lakes (as opposed to predominantly wooded surroundings). These vulnerabilities make it difficult to quantify the scale of impacts upon multiple ecosystem services, including water quality, habitat, and species health/diversity. While there are reserve initiatives in place that are attempting to assess the impacts of climate change on water quality (e.g. the NERRS System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) records and draws correlations between water quality and weather data) and coastal habitat (e.g. shoreline softening techniques, native vegetation restoration), the climatic impacts upon wildlife species is less understood.
The Value in Monitoring Wildlife Species
Old Woman Creek Reserve is one of two of the Great Lakes reserves within the NERRS (National Estuarine Research Reserve System, funded by NOAA). In an evaluation of all 28 reserves, the NERRS Climate Sensitivity Index concluded that Old Woman Creek Reserve rates highest in Overall Ecological Stress. The reserve is host to a number of wildlife species that serve as indicators of ecosystem health (e.g. salamanders, sensitive marsh bird species), as well as species that are a keystone to ecological functioning (e.g. bald eagles, aquatic furbearers). Establishing a phenology-based species monitoring program at Old Woman Creek Reserve would help develop an understanding of how climate trends are affecting species that are indicators of or keystone to ecological success within the estuary, ultimately to inform Great Lakes coastal wetland management practices regarding wildlife.
The intern would help establish a long-term program for the reserve that would draw correlations between climate and species monitoring data. This includes:
summarizing regional anticipated impacts on wildlife taxa
recommending taxa for inclusion in monitoring
identifying appropriate protocols for a Great Lakes coastal wetland monitoring framework
assessing existing wildlife monitoring data for the reserve
recruiting volunteers and organizing/conducting monitoring efforts
drawing linkages between monitoring data and reserve SWMP climate data”