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Ecosystems Restoration and Sustainability: Tools and Methodologies




Couvillion, B.R., and Beck, H., 2013, Marsh collapse thresholds for coastal Louisiana estimated using elevation and vegetation index data: Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue No. 63 - Understanding and Predicting Change in the Coastal Ecosystems of the Northern Gulf of Mexico, p. 58-67,

Forecasting marsh collapse in coastal Louisiana as a result of changes in sea-level rise, subsidence, and accretion deficits necessitates an understanding of thresholds beyond which inundation stress impedes marsh survival. The variability in thresholds at which different marsh types cease to occur (i.e., marsh collapse) is not well understood. We utilized remotely sensed imagery, field data, and elevation data to help gain insight into the relationships between vegetation health and inundation.


Forecasting Hurricane, Sea-level Rise, and Climate Change Effects on Mangrove Systems (Dr. Thomas W. Doyle)




Monitoring helps researchers understand the consequences of multiple environmental and anthropogenic stressors on ecosystems. An understanding of responses to these changes is important when prescribing restoration and management strategies that will enhance the sustainability of ecological systems. New tools and methodologies based on long-term data sets are developed to strengthen the capacity to assess the sustainability of ecosystems with and without restoration and protection investments. These data predict the potential consequences of disturbance events and climate change to these systems.


U.S. Geological Survey, National Wetlands Research Center, 2014, Paddlefish reintroduction tracking mapping application: U.S. Geological Survey,, Accessed 02 Apr 2014.

On March 5, 2014, Caddo Lake Institute and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) released two to three-foot long paddlefish with radio transmitters into the Caddo Lake watershed.   Partnering with the Caddo Lake Institute, the USGS NWRC Advanced Applications Team developed a web-based mapping application that visualizes the paddlefish tracking observations being collected by FWS.  The Caddo Lake Institute allowed schools and others to adopt and name a tagged and released paddlefish.  The application allows these entities to select and track their paddlefish movements throughout the Caddo Lake area.


Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration, 2013, Coastwide Reference Monitoring System (CRMS): Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority,, Accessed 18 Nov 2013.

Evaluating wetland restoration efforts conducted in Louisiana requires monitoring the effectiveness of individual projects as well as monitoring the cumulative effects of all projects in restoring, creating, enhancing, and protecting the coastal landscape. CRMS is a multiple reference approach that uses aspects of hydrogeomorphic functional assessments and probabilistic sampling. Analytical teams of scientists and support staff from the U.S. Geological Survey, other Federal agencies, the Louisiana Office of Coastal Protection and Restoration, and universities were organized to accomplish these goals.


Stagg, C.L., Sharp, L.A., McGinnis, T.E., and Snedden, G.A., 2013, Submergence Vulnerability Index development and application to Coastwide Reference Monitoring System Sites and Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act projects: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2013-1163, 12 p.,

This document details the development of the Submergence Vulnerability Index, which incorporates sediment-elevation data as well as hydrologic data to determine the vulnerability of a wetland based on its ability to keep pace with sea-level rise. The report provides (1) data collection and model development methods used for the sediment-elevation response variables and (2) a description of how these response variables are used to evaluate CWPPRA project and program effectiveness.


Steyer, G.D., Couvillion, B.R., and Barras, J.A., 2013, Monitoring vegetation response to episodic disturbance events by using multitemporal vegetation indices: Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue No. 63 - Understanding and Predicting Change in the Coastal Ecosystems of the Northern Gulf of Mexico, p. 118-130,

Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) derived from MODerate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) satellite imagery and land/water assessments from Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) imagery were used to quantify the extent and severity of damage and subsequent recovery after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita of 2005 within the vegetation communities of Louisiana's coastal wetlands.


Snedden, G.A., and Swenson, E.M., 2012, Hydrologic index development and application to selected Coastwide Reference Monitoring System sites and Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act projects: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2012-1122, 25 p.,

This document addresses the primary objectives of the CRMS hydrologic analytical team, which were to (1) adopt standard time-series analytical techniques that could effectively assess spatial and temporal variability in hydrologic characteristics across the Louisiana coastal zone on site, project, basin, and coastwide scales and (2) develop and apply an index based on wetland hydrology that can describe the suitability of local hydrology in the context of maximizing the productivity of wetland plant communities.


Couvillion, B.R., Barras, J.A., Steyer, G.D., Sleavin, W., Fischer, M., Beck, H., Trahan, N., Griffin, B., and Heckman, D., 2011, Land area change in coastal Louisiana from 1932 to 2010: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Map 3164, scale 1:265,000, 12 p.,

Coastal Louisiana wetlands make up the seventh largest delta on Earth, contain about 37 percent of the estuarine herbaceous marshes in the conterminous United States, and support the largest commercial fishery in the lower 48 States. These wetlands are in peril because Louisiana currently undergoes about 90 percent of the total coastal wetland loss in the continental United States. Documenting and understanding the occurrence and rates of wetland loss are necessary for effective planning, protection, and restoration activities.


Cretini, K.F., and Steyer, G.D., 2011, Floristic Quality Index—An assessment tool for restoration projects and monitoring sites in coastal Louisiana: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2011-3044, 4 p.,

The Coastwide Reference Monitoring System (CRMS) program was established to assess the effectiveness of individual coastal restoration projects and the cumulative effects of multiple projects at regional and coastwide scales. In order to make these assessments, analytical teams were assembled for each of the primary data types sampled under the CRMS program, including vegetation, hydrology, landscape, and soils. The CRMS Vegetation Analytical Team developed a Floristic Quality Index for coastal Louisiana to determine the quality of a wetland based on its plant species composition and abundance.


Cretini, K.F., Visser, J.M., Krauss, K.W., and Steyer, G.D., 2011, CRMS vegetation analytical team framework—methods for collection, development, and use of vegetation response variables: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2011-1097, 60 p.,

This document identifies the main objectives of the Coastwide Reference Monitoring System (CRMS) vegetation analytical team, which are to provide (1) collection and development methods for vegetation response variables and (2) the ways in which these response variables will be used to evaluate restoration project effectiveness.


Randall, L.A., Diehl, R.H., Wilson, B.C., Barrow, W.C. Jr., Jeske, C.W., 2011, Potential use of weather radar to study movements of wintering waterfowl: The Journal of Wildlife Management, v. 75, n. 6, p. 1324-1329,

To protect and restore wintering waterfowl habitat, managers require knowledge of routine wintering waterfowl movements and habitat use. During preliminary screening of Doppler weather radar data we observed biological movements consistent with routine foraging flights of wintering waterfowl known to occur near Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana.


Ruth, J.M., Barrow, W.C. Jr., Sojda, R.S., Dawson, D.K., Diehl, R.H., Manville, A., Green, M.T., Krueper, D.J., and Johnston, S., 2005, Advancing migratory bird conservation and management by using radar: An interagency collaboration: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2005-1173, 12 p.,

USGS scientists and USFWS migratory bird biologists are collaborating with university partners to develop a suite of products for managers. The goals are to identify migratory pathways and stopover sites for conservation, mitigation, and landscape planning; convey the importance of functional landscapes and unobstructed airspaces for migrating wildlife; enable use of radar by the wider biological, wind power, and related communities; and simplify the analysis of radar data. The long term focus is to use radar technologies to better understand movement patterns and habitat associations of migratory birds and other wildlife.


Smith, G.J.; Barrow, W.C. Jr., 2005, Using radar to understand migratory birds and their habitats: Critical needs for the Gulf of Mexico: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2005-3067, 2 p.,

Nearly all Neotropical migratory landbird species of the eastern United States as well as many western species use Louisiana and the northern Gulf of Mexico coast during their transcontinental migrations each spring and fall. Radar has determined that hundreds of millions of birds make the nocturnal crossing of the Gulf of Mexico resulting in daily flights of as many as 2.5 million individuals stopping in Louisiana to feed and rest. These migration landings are so spectacular that the term “fallout” has been coined to describe the concentrations of birds arriving on the coast. Radar technology makes possible the tools and models needed to inform bird conservation decisions.


Smith, G.J.; Barrow, W.C. Jr., 2005, Migratory bird pathways and the Gulf of Mexico: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2005-3069, 1 p.,

Because of its geographic position, Louisiana plays an important role in the hemispheric-scale phenomenon known as the Nearctic-Neotropical bird migration system. Each year millions of landbirds migrate across or near to the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. Birds migrate in large, broad fronts that sometimes exceed 2 million individuals, and there is an advantage for them to take a direct north-south route (the shortest distance).


Walls, Susan C., J. Hardin Waddle, and Robert M. Dorazio, 2011, Estimating occupancy dynamics in an anuran assemblage from Louisiana, USA: The Journal of Wildlife Management, v. 75, no. 4, p. 751-761,

Effective monitoring programs are designed to track changes in the distribution, occurrence, and abundance of species. We developed an extension of Royle and Kéry's (2007) single species model to estimate simultaneously temporal changes in probabilities of detection, occupancy, colonization, extinction, and species turnover using data on calling anuran amphibians, collected from 2002 to 2006 in the Lower Mississippi Alluvial Valley of Louisiana, USA.


Development of Bathymetry/topography Composite for the Northern Gulf of Mexico (Brady Couvillion)




Investigation of Causal Mechanisms of Wetland Loss in Coastal Louisiana (Brady Couvillion)




Development of a Probability of Wetland Loss Index (Brady Couvillion)




Development of Land Use/Land Cover Data with Increased Temporal and Thematic Resolution for the Northern Gulf of Mexico (Brady Couvillion)




Mangrove Mapping and Expansion in the Northern Gulf of Mexico (Dr. Thomas W. Doyle, Dr. Ken W. Krauss)



Tools and Methods

In addition to developing and refining instruments for field measurements, NWRC designs and maintains computer applications primarily focused on delivery and visualization of scientific data for the natural resource management community. Many products seamlessly integrate spatial and tabular data, bringing a new dimension to the data visualization realm.


Anemaet, E.R., and Middleton, B.A., 2013, Dendrometer bands made easy: using modified cable ties to measure incremental growth of trees: Applications in Plant Sciences, v. 1, n. 9, p. 1300044,

Dendrometer bands are a useful way to make sequential repeated measurements of tree growth, but traditional dendrometer bands can be expensive, time consuming, and difficult to construct in the field. An alternative to the traditional method of band construction is to adapt commercially available materials. This paper describes how to construct and install dendrometer bands using smooth-edged, stainless steel, cable tie banding and attachable rollerball heads.


Suir, G.M., Evers, D.E., Steyer, G.D., and Sasser C.E., 2013, Development of a reproducible method for determining quantity of water and its configuration in a marsh landscape: Journal of Coastal Research, Special Issue No. 63 - Understanding and Predicting Change in the Coastal Ecosystems of the Northern Gulf of Mexico, p. 110-117,

Coastal Louisiana is a dynamic and ever-changing landscape. From 1956 to 2010, over 3,734 km2 of Louisiana's coastal wetlands have been lost due to a combination of natural and human-induced activities. The resulting landscape constitutes a mosaic of conditions from highly deteriorated to relatively stable with intact landmasses. Understanding how and why coastal landscapes change over time is critical to restoration and rehabilitation efforts. This study aims to expand existing tools and techniques via a computer-based method, which uses geospatial technologies for determining shifts in landscape patterns.


Jenkins, J.A., Eilts, B.E., and Draugelis-Dale, R.O., 2010, Flow cytometry: An essential tool in biomarker research, p. 34 [abs.], IN Briggs, K.M., ed., 2010, Proceedings of the U.S. Geological Survey Interdisciplinary Microbiology Workshop, Estes Park, Colorado, October 15–17, 2008,

Gains in microbiological knowledge are led by technological advances. Flow cytometry (FCM) technology continues to expand through adaptations of new reagents and protocols. At the USGS NWRC, FCM is primarily applied to environmental studies with aquatic animals and amphibians to study sublethal stress manifested first at the suborganismal level (nuclei, cytoplasm, membranes, and extracellular fluids).


Keeland, B.D., Young, P.J., [2000], Installation of Traditional Dendrometer Bands, U.S. Geological Survey,, Accessed 19 Nov 2013

Dendrometer bands are commonly used to make short-term repeated measurements of tree-stem growth. These bands are fairly easy to make and install on most trees. We have provided a general history of their development, theory of operation, and construction and installation details.


Environmental Decision-Support Systems for Natural Resource Management Applications (Steve B. Hartley)




Ecosystem Support for Landscape-level Conservation and Restoration Planning for Coastal Louisiana (Steve B. Hartley)




Development of Monitoring and Adaptive Management Plans for Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA) Projects (Dr. Gregory D. Steyer, Kari Cretini, Sarai Piazza)




Development of an Adaptive Management Framework for the State of Louisiana’s Master Plan (Dr. Gregory D. Steyer)




EverVIEW is a desktop application for viewing ecological modeling data, in both spatial and tabular form. Along with viewing modeling data, users can run ecological models and associated data tools from within EverVIEW.




Nonindigenous Aquatic Species (NAS) is a central repository for spatially referenced biogeographic accounts of introduced aquatic species.




Sea-Level Rise Visualization for Alabama and Mississippi is a collaborative effort of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Services Center, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Wetlands Research Center and the USGS Mississippi Water Science Center.




NOLA Environmental is a public web application set up to share efforts being made by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal and state agencies in south Louisiana regarding the environmental compliance for proposed federal and state Hurricane Risk Reduction Projects.




Mississippi River Gulf Outlet (MRGO)




USGS and the Gulf of Mexico Alliance




Joint Ecosystem Modeling (JEM)




Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection and Restoration Act (CWPPRA)




Louisiana Coastal Area (LCA)




Aerial Video System




DOQQ Delivery Map




GIS Technologies: Technical Assistance, Support, and Training Related to GIS (Steve B. Hartley)




Habitat Mapping and GIS Analysis for Coastal Wetlands Planning, Protection, and Restoration Act ("Breaux Bill") (William R. Jones, Michelle Fischer)




Land Change Assessment for Coastal Louisiana and Coastal Restoration Projects (Michelle Fischer, Brady Couvillion, Blaire Hutchison)




Louisiana GAP Project: Landcover Map, Wildlife Breeding Bird Distributions, and Public Lands (Steve B. Hartley)




Southeast Aquatic Resources Partnership: Red and Sabine River Basins (Steve B. Hartley)




National Wetlands Inventory mapping for Coastal Louisiana (William R. Jones)




GIS Application and Web development (Craig P. Conzelmann)




Habitat Mapping, Aerial Photography Acquisition, Surveying, and Technology Assessment for the Southeastern United States




Habitat Mapping to Determine Fire Fuel Loads for Sabine National Wildlife Refuge




Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Mapping for the Coastal Gulf of Mexico




National Wetlands Inventory Mapping for Coastal Louisiana (William R. Jones)



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