A Basin-Wide Survey of Coastal Wetlands of the Laurentian Great Lakes: Development and Comparison of Water Quality Indices

Anna M. Harrison, Alexander J. Reisinger, Matthew J. Cooper, Valerie J. Brady, Jan J.H. Ciborowski, Katherine E. O’Reilly, Carl R. Ruetz, Douglas A. Wilcox, Donald G. Uzarski

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Coastal wetlands of the Laurentian Great Lakes are vital habitats for biota of ecological and economic importance. These habitats are susceptible to water quality impairments driven by runoff from the landscape due to their location along the shoreline. Monitoring of the overall status of biotic and abiotic conditions of coastal wetlands within the Great Lakes has been ongoing for over a decade. Here, we utilize measurements of aquatic physicochemical and land cover variables from 877 vegetation zones in 511 coastal wetland sites spanning the US and Canadian shorelines of the entire Great Lakes basin. Our objective is to develop water quality indices based on physicochemical measures (Chem-Rank), land use/land cover (LULC-Rank), and their combined effects (Sum-Rank and Simplified Sum-Rank), for both vegetation zones and wetland sites. We found that water quality differed among wetland vegetation types and among Great Lakes regions, corroborating previous findings that human land use alters coastal wetland water quality. Future monitoring can use these straightforward, easy-to-calculate indices to assess the abiotic condition of aquatic habitats. Our data support the need for management efforts focused on reducing nutrient and pollution loads that stem from human activities, particularly in the developed southern portions of the Great Lakes basin.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)465-477
Number of pages13
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The data contributing to this paper were collected by scientists and their research teams from 11 U.S. and Canadian universities, three U.S. and Canadian government agencies, and one environmental engineering and science firm. The U.S. project team consists of scientists from Central Michigan University’s Institute for Great Lakes Research, the Natural Resources Research Institute (NRRI) at the University of Minnesota Duluth, the Annis Water Resources Institute (AWRI) at Grand Valley State University, the Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation at Northland College, the University of Notre Dame, Lake Superior State University, State University of New York-College at Brockport, the University of Wisconsin at Green Bay, River Falls, and Superior, and Oregon State University, as well as resource management officials from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), and a data-management professional from LimnoTech. Canadian scientists are from the University of Windsor, Environment and Climate Change Canada, and Bird Studies Canada. Funding was provided by the Great Lakes National Program Office under the USEPA, grant number GL-00E00612-0, as part of the US federal government’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. Although this research is partly funded by USEPA, it has not been subjected to the agency’s required peer and policy review. Thus, it does not necessarily reflect the views of the agency and no official endorsement should be inferred. This paper is Contribution Number 128 of the Central Michigan University Institute for Great Lakes Research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019, The Author(s).

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Anthropogenic
  • Coastal wetland
  • Disturbance
  • Great Lakes
  • Land use
  • Water quality index


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