Assessing Climate Vulnerability and Adaptation Opportunities for Apostle Islands Wetlands
In collaboration with the Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation, we began fieldwork for this project in summer 2017. Apostle Islands National Lakeshore (APIS) supports several types of coastal wetlands including lagoons, bogs, freshwater estuaries, fringing marshes, and peatlands on the mainland and on several islands. Because these wetlands are on protected lands and many are on islands, they are high quality systems and may serve as sentinel sites for the Great Lakes. However, despite their protection from many forms of anthropogenic disturbance, they are vulnerable to impacts associated with climate change (e.g., changing Lake Superior water levels, increased storm frequency and intensity, increasing wave energy, increased air and water temperatures). Currently, our ability to proactively and adaptively manage coastal wetlands in a changing climate is limited by a lack of sufficient data on wetland hydrology, water quality, and biotic communities.
The proposed project will address this information gap through a comprehensive assessment of 11 of the park’s major coastal wetlands and, where data are available, compare current to historic conditions to elucidate trends. Data and analyses generated during this project will provide critical information on how the park’s coastal wetlands will likely respond to climate change, bolstering NPS’ capacity to adaptively manage these critical habitats.
Through analysis of both new and historic data, the project will address the following questions:
- Which APIS wetlands are most at risk of climate related changes? Specifically, which wetlands have the highest potential for change in terms of hydroperiod, size, shape, and connectivity with Lake Superior?
- Which wetland biota (both individual species and community types) will be most affected by climate change? Are any of these species or communities rare or unique? What can be done to facilitate adaptation of coastal wetland biota?
- How can APIS serve as a coastal wetland sentinel site to monitor climate-induced changes within the broader Great Lakes ecosystem? Which wetlands and biota should be used as indicators of climate impacts and how should these indicators be efficiently measured over the long term?
In collaboration with Dr. Jim Meeker, our research lab conducted a resurvey in 2013 of plots established in 1998 to assess the rate of invasion by non-native cattails and concomitant impacts to native wetland vegetation over this 15-year period. Cattails can strongly influence available light, temperature, and nutrients in wetlands due to their dense, clonal growth form, robust size, and fast buildup of dead plant material. Their aggressive nature can displace native vegetation such as wild rice, an ecologically and culturally important species to the Bad River Tribe. The invasion of cattails in the Great Lakes region is likely linked with changes in water levels and nutrient inputs, so this study is important for documenting and interpreting longitudinal changes in the Kakagon-Bad River Sloughs, a high quality freshwater estuary system recognized internationally by the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
Our involvement with this project is to assist the Bad River band of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians with the collection of baseline information on vegetation and micro-climate variables within the Bad River and Kakagon Slough wetland complex. These baseline data will be useful for tracking long-term changes in these internationally important wetlands, as well as for modeling probable changes related to global climate change.