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Study looking for indicators to use in monitoring health of Long Island Sound

By Judy Benson

Publication: The Day

Published December 18. 2012 4:00AM

The effects of climate change on key wildlife and ecosystems of Long Island Sound will be the subject of a new research project being sponsored by the Long Island Sound Study, a program of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation.

Called, "Sentinels of Climate Change: Coastal Indicators of Wildlife and Ecosystem Change in Long Island Sound," the project will look at physical, biological or chemical environmental variables that are susceptible to key aspects of climate change, according to a news release from the Long Island Sound office of the EPA.

Its purpose is to identify and study indicators that can serve as the "canary in the coal mine" to provide early warnings about the potential effects of climate change and inform management decisions for the long-term health of the Sound, the statement said.

Mark Tedesco, director of the EPA's Long Island Sound Office, said, "Evidence of climate change is now visible in our local ecosystem. The broad scope of this project will help managers make better informed decisions on protecting a wide range of vulnerable species and habitats in the Sound."

The lead investigators are University of Connecticut scientists Chris Elphick and Min Huang, with support from doctoral student Chris Field. Their research will include examinations of how critical and sensitive habitats such as salt marshes and tidal flats are responding, and how ecosystem changes are affecting populations and behavior patterns of key bird species that live there. The project will make use of existing data and resources, supplemented with new monitoring data. The scientists will be funded for work through 2014, funded by a $193,000 EPA grant that will be administered by DEEP.

"Long Island Sound is likely to see substantial changes over the coming decades," said Elphick, whose expertise includes the study of the endangered saltmarsh sparrow, a species inhabiting Long Island Sound tidal marshes that is threatened by sea level rise. "This project will provide a detailed baseline against which to judge future changes. Most importantly, this knowledge will facilitate better, more cost-effective planning for the protection of natural resources."

Daniel Esty, DEEP commissioner, said the project will provide critical information for "Connecticut's largest and most important natural resource."

"Through this monitoring project, we will obtain information and data on Long Island Sound's changing ecosystems that will provide environmental managers the tools they need to help us protect against and adapt to the pressures of climate change," he said.

For information about the project, visit" http://longislandsoundstudy.net/research-monitoring/sentinel-monitoring/.

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