Theses and Dissertations

Issuing Body

Mississippi State University

Advisor

Evans, Kristine O.

Committee Member

Linhoss, Anna C.

Committee Member

Evans, Kristine O.

Committee Member

Linhoss, Anna C.

Committee Member

Correa, Sandra B.; Street, Garrett M.

Date of Degree

4-30-2021

Original embargo terms

Complete embargo for 1 year

Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Major

Forest Resources

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

College

College of Forest Resources

Department

Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture

Abstract

The Gulf Coast Region (GCR) of the United States holds immense ecological and cultural value. However, constant environmental changes, from sea-level rise and hurricanes to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, threaten many of the values that define the region. Additionally, recent financial settlements from civil and criminal penalties of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill have created an unprecedented opportunity to fund conservation throughout the region. With such a large area of interest (over 700,000 km2) and so many conservation priorities throughout the GCR, there is a great need to strategize which lands are most efficacious for conservation to optimize the protection of ecological and socioeconomic values. Given the importance of ecologically sound data to informing conservation planning, I directed my dissertation to develop gulf-wide datasets to be used in a geospatial tool to support land conservation actions in the GCR. My dissertation addresses three fundamental objectives: 1) assessing how landscapes are associated with estuarine biotic health; 2) mapping hydrologic response to changes in land-use; and, 3) creating indices of land conservation value with regards to modeled associations (from objective 1) with estuarine biotic health. For objective 1, I constructed three hierarchical models across 33 GCR estuaries and their associated watersheds. I estimated the expected number of fish and shrimp species observed in a trawl sample based on temperature, salinity, and runoff volume per catchment area across six different land-use/land-cover (LULC) classes. These models can provide a quantitative basis for assigning offsite values to lands for conservation potential within the GCR. For objective 2, I assessed associations of different LULC classes with hydrologic changes, measured by peak flow (cfs), from 1996-2016 within each GCR watershed, which can be valuable to conservation planning that seeks to focus on preserving or restoring more typical flow regimes. For my 3rd objective, I developed an index of conservation value which incorporates relationships among LULC, hydrologic connectivity, and estuarine biotic health for lands within the GCR. These elements will help address lesser understood land conservation needs in the GCR to better enable conservation planners to protect the values of this region in the face of inevitable change.

Sponsorship

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Available for download on Monday, May 16, 2022

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