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Developing a shared understanding of the Upper Mississippi River: the foundation of an ecological resilience assessment

Kristen L Bouska, Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, U.S. Geological Survey, La Crosse, WI
Jeffrey N Houser, Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, U.S. Geological Survey, La Crosse, WI
Nathan R. De Jager, Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center, U.S. Geological Survey, La Crosse, WI
Jon Hendrickson, St. Paul District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Paul, MN


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The Upper Mississippi River System (UMRS) is a large and complex floodplain river ecosystem that spans the jurisdictions of multiple state and federal agencies. In support of ongoing ecosystem restoration and management by this broad partnership, we are undertaking a resilience assessment of the UMRS. We describe the UMRS in the context of an ecological resilience assessment. Our description articulates the temporal and spatial extent of our assessment of the UMRS, the relevant historical context, the valued services provided by the system, and the fundamental controlling variables that determine its structure and function. An important objective of developing the system description was to determine the simplest, adequate conceptual understanding of the UMRS. We conceptualize a simplified UMRS as three interconnected subsystems: lotic channels, lentic off-channel areas, and floodplains. By identifying controlling variables within each subsystem, we have developed a shared understanding of the basic structure and function of the UMRS, which will serve as the basis for ongoing quantitative evaluations of factors that likely contribute to the resilience of the UMRS. As we undertake the subsequent elements of a resilience assessment, we anticipate our improved understanding of interactions, feedbacks, and critical thresholds will assist natural resource managers to better recognize the system’s ability to adapt to existing and new stresses.

Key words

Controlling variable; historical changes; large floodplain river

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087