Map synthesizes total threats to Great Lakes

U. MICHIGAN (US)—Researchers are developing the first regional “threat map” of the Great Lakes. The project, which focuses on the effects of human activity, is designed to help planners and conservation groups in the United States and Canada make decisions and prioritize activities for years to come.

“Building on previous efforts to map each threat and priority individually, for the first time we now have the ability to generate synthetic maps of threats and their predicted impacts for the entire Great Lakes basin,” says David Allan, professor of aquatic sciences at the University of Michigan and the project’s lead researcher.

“Though challenging, this effort is requisite to achieving a full understanding of the current and future state of the lakes, and will be particularly valuable in the current era of rapidly expanding human impacts, including anthropogenic climate change,” Allan explains.

Researchers will gather quantitative maps of a wide variety of threats, from land-based pollution to exotic species and will assign weights to the impact of each threat on each type of ecosystem.

Combining the individual threat maps and weights will yield a single, high-resolution cumulative threat map spanning the entire basin. Users will be able to focus on locales of particular interest, or evaluate restoration needs at larger scales.

The resulting synthesis will provide timely guidance for the allocation of federal investments under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and other programs. The project will provide a critical tool for catalyzing and coordinating regional conservation efforts, Allan says.

A similar mapping effort of the world’s oceans drew international attention last year and has transformed agency and nongovernmental organizations’ conservation priorities for marine ecosystems along the U.S. coasts and around the world.

Researchers from the University of California Santa Barbara contributed to the two-year project, which is funded by the Erb Family Foundation.

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