Ephemeral wetlands and municipal decision-making: Linking ecology and conservation with economic development through interdisciplinary research in forested landscapes
An inherent challenge for research that focuses on coupled natural and human (CNH) systems is the establishment of common metrics that can be applied across disparate disciplines to draw unified conclusions. Our research team integrates ecological and socioeconomic sciences to identify improved strategies for conserving vernal pools and other small natural features within larger landscapes. Given the diverse disciplines of our team, we identified a need to create a common metric (i.e., x-axis) suitable for informing conclusions from an array of dependent variables. We used an iterative process to develop a novel metric that can be used to quantify human activity across a landscape. The Human Development Index (HDI) provides a common dependent variable that is useful for describing patterns ranging from amphibians dispersal to landowner decision making processes. A 2012 landowner survey asked respondents about past and future development behavior on their land parcel, and HDI values were calculated within each survey parcel and within a 500 m buffer surrounding each parcel. We estimated target-species population (wood frog (Lithobates sylvaticus) and spotted salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)) differentiation using the fixation index (FST). Using multivariate analyses, we related amphibian health profiles of target species to pool-associated HDI values.
Our data indicate the likelihood of future land development is negatively correlated with buffer HDI, suggesting that landowners in more human-impacted areas are less likely to further develop their parcels. Additionally, preliminary data indicate there is a limited relationship between HDI and the number of amphibian egg masses found in a given vernal pool. Results also suggest differences (p<0.1) in pool-associated HDI at 600m and 990m scales contribute to differences between health clusters for wood frogs; however there are no apparent relationships between HDI and salamander health clusters. Additionally, local FST values are not correlated with HDI, suggesting increased HDI does not produce more frequent cycles of extirpation and recolonization in our target amphibian populations. Working in CNH teams can be challenging, especially when interdisciplinary groups are tasked to define a common metric to employ when integrating results across socioeconomic and biophysical parameters. Though our team is still in the initial phase of data integration, the development of the HDI has allowed us to identify numerous heuristics that will be helpful for guiding other CNH studies in finding a common metric to develop unified conclusions drawn from fundamentally different disciplines.