Research Priorities

Reserves articulate research priorities annually or bi-annually through the NERRS Science Collaborative and NOAA’s Davidson Fellowship. While priorities are drafted for these opportunities, they speak broadly to current research needs at the Lake Superior Reserve. Read more below about the current priorities at the Reserve. 

A muddy shoreline along a river

Stressors, climate change, and pollution

Lake Superior coastal zones are experiencing numerous stressors including climate change, eutrophication and pollution, and this creates complexity for coastal stewards who wish to act swiftly and effectively to mitigate adverse impacts to human and natural communities; however, the differing ways in which climate change and other sources of anthropogenic stress (such as legacy contaminants) affect estuarine processes, species, and human communities is poorly understood. Therefore, research is needed to address how interacting stressors within Lake Superior estuaries affect coastal systems, leading to more nuanced management and restoration actions that address causal issues.

Mapping, habitats, and restoration

A bi-state, tribal nation, and multi-agency team working towards updating the St. Louis River Habitat Plan needs a modern habitat mapping tool to help identify and prioritize areas for future restoration and conservation and the Lake Superior Reserve is developing a new repeatable habitat mapping process but the Reserve only has capacity to map habitats within the Reserve’s boundaries, which captures only part of the estuary. Therefore, Reserve partners need assistance applying these mapping techniques to the whole estuary, so that it is a useful and applicable tool for estuary-wide habitat restoration planning and vulnerability assessment.

white and pink flowers growing in the wild
A weather station in a marsh

Drivers, change, monitoring, and synthesis

Natural and anthropogenic factors act at multiple spatiotemporal scales to drive change in estuarine ecosystems and understanding how varying drivers interact at different temporal (e.g., short-to-long term) and spatial (e.g., watershed-to-global) scales is essential for addressing management needs, but our understanding of drivers at varying spatial and temporal scales is lacking. Therefore, we are interested in quantitative analyses (e.g. multivariate, time-series, spatial) that synthesize long-term, system-wide monitoring data collected at the Lake Superior reserve and across the NERRS, specifically when applied to investigate natural and anthropogenic drivers of variability in estuarine responses (e.g. in wetland vegetation, water quality, productivity).

Data accessibility

The Lake Superior Reserve and partners produce high-quality environmental data related to the St. Louis River estuary and this data is valuable to many users across a broad suite of research, management, and educational contexts but simplified and direct access to Reserve data has been a challenge for partners and collaborators of the Reserve and data needs are varied. Therefore, the development of a new data sharing tool or interface that improves a wide range of users’ ability to connect and interact with Reserve and select partner’s data would help serve the programmatic needs of the Reserve and its many partners.

A hand holding a pen while writing on a data sheet of paper
A pair of wooden poles laying on a batch of wild rice

Biocultural and experiential restoration

Across the NERRS, Reserve staff and partners have a wide range of understandings of the role of Indigenous science in restoring social-ecological estuarine systems and have increasingly identified a need for deeper experience and applied knowledge but learning opportunities related to biocultural restoration and cultural ecosystem service approaches that center Indigenous knowledges do not yet exist for the system. Therefore, Reserves would benefit from in-depth experiential learning related to these approaches to better support thriving estuaries and just coastal communities.

Winter Limnology

Historically, freshwater ecosystem processes have been largely ignored in the winter for several reasons including assumptions that the system is dormant, sampling difficulty, and working around academic calendars, but recent interest in winter limnology has increased as we have realized that there is considerable physical and biochemical activity in the winter, including under ice. Therefore, a better understanding of the dominant ecological processes during winter and their influence on ecosystem function at the seasonal and interannual scale is needed to provide a holistic understanding of coastal ecosystem health and function.

A frozen shoreline of lake superior

Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)

Cyanobacterial harmful algal blooms (cHABs) are becoming increasingly common in the Great Lakes region and have recently emerged in the St. Louis River Estuary (SLRE) and coastal Lake Superior. However, the SLRE and coastal Lake Superior are very different environments than those typically associated with cHABs and thus, environmental drivers are not well understood. Therefore, a better understanding of the drivers, phenology, traits, and impacts of cHABs on ecological and public health are needed to better understand, prevent, and mitigate cHABs now and in the future.

Emerald Ash Borer (EAB)

The invasive emerald ash borer (EAB) has begun to impact black ash-dominated forested wetlands in the St. Louis River estuary and will likely cause shifts in species composition and wetland function and the Reserve is beginning restoration projects to maintain forested wetland habitats. But the extent of ecological impacts of EAB in a Lake Superior estuarine environment is unknown, especially in the context of daily, seasonal and long term water level fluctuations and increasing flood events. Therefore, robust analysis of the ecological function of these forested wetlands in Lake Superior estuaries may help inform future restoration and management efforts.

A group of dead trees