Virginia CZM Program: 2005 Coastal Grant Project Description and Final Summary

Project Task:

92.08

Grantee:

The Nature Conservancy

Project Title:

'Ecological Marine Units': Mapping Natural Communities in the Ocean

Project Description as Proposed:

For decades, terrestrial conservation efforts have been guided by habitat classification systems and maps, most notably “natural community” typing developed by NatureServe and used in all 50 states.  This system defines and maps ecosystems based on distinct habitats and associated plant and animal communities.  State and federal agencies and others use these maps to determine which community types are intrinsically rare or sensitive, to identify the best remaining occurrences of natural communities, and to inform conservation planning and permitting decisions at local, regional, and ecoregional scales. 

Development of effective marine conservation strategies is impeded by the lack of a robust system that pairs characteristic biological communities with physical habitat factors.  The Nature Conservancy has been working closely with experts to develop such a system and has recently completed a successful pilot study.  

Our method incorporates over one million spatially referenced records for diverse fish and invertebrate species, obtained from NMFS.  We begin with a conventional habitat classification strategy, classes constructed using combined physical factors—depth, temperature, substrate type, and slope.  Biological data is then overlaid and analyzed using a quantitative cluster analysis to identify distinct species groups, followed by classification and regression tree analysis to identify the threshold values for each physical factor that best predict occurrences for all species groups.  Finally, GIS analysis methods are used to produce maps showing Ecological Marine Units, marine analogues to the terrestrial natural communities described above.  Our partners indicate they expect these new maps will be very useful for supporting multiple conservation and management objectives (e.g. offshore energy permitting decisions, characterization of sensitivity to diverse human use impacts, identification of priority areas for protection).   

Products: 1) A seafloor habitat map for the Mid Atlantic Bight.  2) Distribution and abundance maps for eight key species of particular relevance for Virginia.  3) Accompanying report and all spatial data formatted for optimal presentation on the CZM Program’s Coastal GEMS Internet mapping application.

Federal Funding:

$18,789.00

Project Contact:

Jay Odell; (804) 443-9238 x24; jodell@tnc.org

Project Status:

5/15/2008 - 9/30/2008; Project Completed

Final Product Received:

Benthic Habitat Mapping for the Northwest Atlantic: First Iteration for the Mid-Atlantic Bight and other Sub-regions (PDF)
Ecological Marine Units Fact Sheet for Use on Coastal GEMS (PDF)
Ecological Marine Units and Benthic Habitat Mapping Poster (PDF)

Project Summary Provided by Grantee:

For decades, terrestrial conservation efforts have been guided by habitat classification systems and maps, most notably “natural community” typing developed by NatureServe and used in all 50 states.  This system defines and maps ecosystems based on distinct habitats and associated plant and animal communities.  State and federal agencies and others use these maps to determine which community types are intrinsically rare or sensitive, to identify the best remaining occurrences of natural communities, and to inform conservation planning and permitting decisions at local, regional, and ecoregional scales. 

Unfortunately, marine conservation planners have not had the benefit of such a robust system that pairs characteristic biological communities with physical habitat factors.  The Nature Conservancy has been working closely with experts to develop such a system and this project represents the first step, to be further developed and refined in the months and years to come. 

The purpose of this project was to produce a map of the sea bottom  (from Cape Hatteras in North Carolina north to the Bay of Fundy) showing distinct natural marine communities based on both physical and biological data.  Physical data like depth, substrate type (e.g. mud, sand, gravel etc.), and slope were combined and analyzed in comparison with National Marine Fisheries Service survey data containing thousands of observed locations for hundreds of fish and invertebrate species.  Cluster analysis and recursive partitioning methods were used to identify persistent species groups, and the thresholds for physical factors (e.g. always deeper than 100 meters, etc,) that explained why individual groups were only found in specific locations.   This new mapping approach revealed how natural marine communities are paired with distinct physical habitat characteristics (ecological marine units).   

Additionally, the National Marine Fisheries Service’s trawl survey database was analyzed to identify the most important locations for eight species of particular interest to marine resource stakeholders in Virginia:  American shad, Atlantic menhaden, black sea bass, Atlantic croaker, horseshoe crab, sea scallop, summer flounder and weakfish.  Nearly one million records were summarized to identify and rank areas within a uniform grid.  The measure of “importance” was based on persistence (the number of times a species was caught in a location) and abundance (the average number of animals found in that location).  

Products delivered for this project include:

A report and appendices with detailed methods and results

A geographic information system database with maps of ecological marine units and benthic habitats

A geographic information system database with importance maps for eight species

Fact sheets to support presentation of these data on the Coastal Gems online mapping website

Note: materials submitted under this grant are currently undergoing final peer review and revision, with any additional costs covered by The Nature Conservancy.  Through cross-checking with independent survey data, these revisions may substantially improve the accuracy and credibility of results.  Any necessary revisions will be submitted to the Virginia Coastal Zone program by June 2009.

Disclaimer: This project summary provides the federal dollars initially awarded to the grantee. Due to underexpenditure or reprogramming of grant funds, this figure may change. For more information on the allocation of coastal grant funds, please contact Laura McKay, Virginia Coastal Program Manager, at 804.698.4323 or email:Laura.McKay@deq.virginia.gov

A more detailed Scope of Work for this project is available. Please direct your request for a copy toVirginia.Witmer@deq.virginia.gov

 

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Virginia Department of
Environmental Quality
P.O. Box 1105
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 698-4000


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