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In Pursuit of the Aquatic Component of Gap Analysis

Michael D. Jennings
National Gap Analysis Program, Moscow, Idaho

While GAP has made huge strides in developing information on the biogeography of terrestrial environments for conservation assessments, much less has been accomplished for aquatic environments. The program’s initial focus on terrestrial vertebrates and vegetation types was a choice based on what was achievable at that early time in our history. The issue is not which components of biodiversity we might specialize in, rather, how to pragmatically implement gap analysis. In principle, GAP is committed to developing biogeographic information for all species and habitats. How else could we claim to be in the business of assessing the conservation status of biodiversity?

The need to apply the GAP methodology to aquatic environments is now, more than ever, crucial to the survival of many aquatic species. The Nature Conservancy (TNC 1966) estimates that 68 percent of all freshwater mussel species, 51 percent of crayfish species, 40 percent of amphibian species, and 39 percent of freshwater fish species are either vulnerable, imperiled, critically imperiled, or presumed extinct. These numbers of endangerment for aquatic organisms eclipse comparable figures for terrestrial taxa (about 15 percent of mammals and birds combined are endangered). Yet, the information required to relate species distributions to biodiversity management is still poorly organized for most states.

Determining gaps in the management of aquatic biodiversity begins by integrating the GAP terrestrial data, such as land cover and land management, with the following suite of aquatic data sets:

  1. the National Hydrography Dataset (includes the EPA River Reach File; see http://nhd.fgdc.gov/nhdpgs/), which is the spatial framework for aquatic features;
  2. distributions of species by river reach;
  3. the bundle of management scenarios for each river reach, such as county zoning set-back requirements, sport fish stocking, or state water quality regulations;
  4. the distributions of aquatic habitat types by river reach.

One of the most significant contributing factors to the continued demise of aquatic biodiversity is that terrestrial and aquatic environments have been, and still are, managed as separate entities. An important opportunity in developing the aquatic component of Gap Analysis is in creating seamless land-water data sets. As demonstrated by GAP products for terrestrial environments, the combined terrestrial and aquatic data sets will not only be used to identify aquatic biodiversity conservation gaps, they will also be used iterative in everyday land and water management choices as well as opportunistically in ways we have not thought of.

The need for developing the aquatic component of GAP was recognized as early as 1993, when the funds needed to support the effort were allocated by Congress. Those funds, however, were rescinded by the 1994 Congress. GAP still managed to initiate development of an aquatic component of the program in 1995 with the start of a pilot project in the upper Allegheny River Basin in Western New York. This project succeeded in providing a fully developed and practical working example of GAP methodologies applied to aquatic habitats at the river basin scale. For more information, go to the aquatic link on the GAP home page (http://aquagap.cfe.cornell.edu) or contact Mark Bain <mbb1@cornell.edu>.

In 1996, in partnership with the Missouri Resources Assessment Partnership (MoRAP) and the USGS National Water Quality Assessment program (NAWQA), a statewide pilot was initiated in Missouri. Recently, the Department of Defense has joined with the BRD in supporting this project. The Missouri project is assessing aquatic biodiversity at the regional, watershed, and "valley-segment" (Lammert et al. 1997) scales. A major emphasis is on identifying opportunities and techniques for integrating conservation assessments conducted separately for terrestrial and aquatic environments, as well as integrating the foundation data sets for combined analyses. For more information on this project see MoRAP Projects at <http://www.msc.nbs.gov/morap/projects/projects.html#marp>, or go to the MoRAP web site by clicking on Missouri from GAP’s State Project Information page, or contact Scott Sowa <scott_sowa@usgs.gov>.

Although a single discrete source of funds for the development of aquatic data sets in each state has not surfaced (and probably will never come as one sum), this year the BRD awarded competitive funds from its Ecosystem Initiative Program to develop a strategy for making the transition from the pilot project phase to a nationwide program, and to develop the broad-based support needed. This effort will begin with a series of regional workshops to assess the information needs of state and federal agencies, nongovernment organizations, and the academic community. The outcome of these workshops will be to establish a network of communications and support and a series of guidance documents (i.e., a GAP Handbook Chapter for aquatic environments). Stay tuned for a workshop near you in 1998. For more information about this activity contact Tom Muir <tmuir@usgs.gov>.

Literature Cited

Lammert, M., J. Higgins, D. Grossman, and M. Bryer. 1997. A classification framework for freshwater communities: Proceedings of The Nature Conservancy’s Aquatic Community Classification Workshop, New Haven, MO. April 9-11, 1996. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, Virginia.

TNC. 1966. Priorities for conservation: 1996 annual report card for U.S. plant and animal species. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, Virginia.

Thanks to Mark Bain, Tom Muir, and Scott Sowa for their review and input.

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