Graham Sustainability Institute

Monitoring ecosystem function responses to stamp sand stabilization in tributaries of Lake Superior

Michigan Tech student sampling on Hills Creek upstream of the main restoration site


Amy Marcarelli, Michigan Technological University
Casey Huckins, Michigan Technological University
Gina Nicholas, Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District

Project Summary

Aquatic restoration projects are often motivated by anticipated improvement in biological resources such as restored fisheries. Ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling, energy flow through food webs, and retention of food and detritus describe interactions among organisms and their environment that are a foundation of this desired fishery response. These ecosystem parameters could explain why some restoration projects are successful and others are not, yet they have seldom been integrated into postrestoration monitoring programs.

Copper-rich stamp sands were deposited widely along streams and lakes in the Western Upper Peninsula during the height of copper mining, 1840s-1960s. These deposits are now a significant regional source of habitat degradation and water pollution and continue to negatively impact the fisheries of Lake Superior and its tributaries.

The Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District’s Hills Creek Stamp Sand Stabilization Project, funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, is using an innovative environmental approach to stabilize and revegetate Hills Creek floodplain habitat buried by legacy stamp sands. Current monitoring conducted by Dr. Huckins and his students includes measurements of physical (stream habitat) and biological structure (fish and macroinvertebrate communities) in restored and unrestored stream reaches.

This project will add measurements of ecosystem functions (energy flow through food webs, microbial nutrient uptake, retention of particulate and dissolved materials) to enhance understanding of ecological responses to restoration activities and to compare the function of restored reaches to other, less impacted, streams in the region. This project will be conducted in collaboration with the Houghton Keweenaw Conservation District and provide valuable information to evaluate the success of the project’s goal to restore the health of this stream ecosystem. This project will also serve as a test case to determine the usefulness of ecosystem functions for monitoring responses to other restoration activities in tributaries throughout the Great Lakes region.