Plum Island Ecosystems LTER

Pete Raymond, Byron Crump and Nat Weston installing a Sediment Elevation Tube (SET) in Spartina patens marsh. Photo courtesy of the Plum Island Microbial Observatory

Key Research Findings:

PIE scientists revealed ways that human activities and natural processes interact to control the flow of water and nutrients from the land to the ocean.
Estuaries intercept nitrogen as it travels from watersheds to coastal waters, but the effectiveness of this ecosystem service varies widely. PIE scientists discovered that the magnitude and timing of salinity changes in tidal waters may control the processing of the nitrogen, which may impact the frequency and severity of algal blooms along the coast.
PIE scientists have been leaders in using anadromous fish movements to inform watershed restoration efforts. Our research on river herring, a declining fish in Massachusetts, is providing new insights into fish ecology as indicators of watershed status, in linking freshwater dynamics to estuarine ecosystem function, and informing watershed restoration.

Overview: The Plum Island Ecosystems (PIE) LTER is an integrated research, education and outreach program whose goal is to develop a predictive understanding of the long-term response of watershed and estuarine ecosystems at the land-sea interface to changes in climate, land use and sea level. The principal study site is the Plum Island Sound estuary, its coupled Parker, Rowley and Ipswich River watersheds and the adjacent coastal ocean, the Gulf of Maine. The PIE LTER focuses on how several aspects of global change influence organic matter and inorganic nutrient biogeochemistry and estuarine foodwebs. The inputs of organic matter and nutrients from land, ocean and marshes interact with the external drivers (climate, land use, river discharge, sea level) to dictate the extent and degree of nutrient and organic matter processing and determine the spatial patterns of estuarine productivity and trophic structure.
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History: The Plum Island Ecosystems LTER (PIE LTER) was established in 1998. During the course of our research, we have designed and implemented a comprehensive study of a major, land-estuarine system in the Acadian biogeographic province in eastern New England. Our goal is to develop a predictive understanding of the long-term dynamics of watershed and estuarine ecosystems at the land-sea interface and to apply this knowledge to the wise management and development of policy to protect the natural resources of the coastal zone. The principal study site is the Plum Island Sound estuary, its coupled Parker and Ipswich River basins and the coastal ocean, the Gulf of Maine.
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Research Topics: The biosphere is undergoing unprecedented change as a result of human activities. Major global issues include growth of the human population, land use change, climate change, altered hydrologic cycles, and sea level rise. There are numerous ways that these globally important issues are affecting the biosphere. The PIE LTER focuses on how these issues influence organic matter and inorganic nutrient biogeochemistry and estuarine foodwebs. The inputs of organic matter and nutrients from land, ocean and marshes interact with the external drivers (climate, land use, river discharge, sea level) to dictate the extent and degree of nutrient and organic matter processing and determine the spatial patterns of estuarine productivity and trophic structure. Our overarching question is: How will trophic structure and primary and secondary productivity in estuaries be affected by changes in organic matter and nutrient loading and hydrodynamics caused by changing land use, climate and sea level?
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