The South Slough estuary encompasses a complete environmental gradient of marine, estuarine, freshwater, and terrestrial habitats. As such, the South Slough NERR provides an ideal setting for studying estuarine processes and issues, investigations that have direct applications toward improvements in regional coastal zone management.
The Research Program at South Slough NERR aims to understand patterns and processes that contribute to healthy coastal and estuarine ecosystems in the Lower Columbia biogeographic regions. The Research Program focuses on understanding estuarine functions and processes along with investigating links between watersheds, estuaries, and nearshore marine environments, implementing and expanding multiple components of the System-Wide Monitoring Program (SWMP) and applying monitoring data to resource management, understanding natural and human induced changes in coastal ecosystems including participation in the NERRS Sentinel Site Program for Understanding Climate Change Impacts, and supporting graduate student research through the Graduate Research Fellowship program. The Reserve collaborates with local, state, and regional agencies and organizations to make information about coastal ecosystems available to resource managers, policy makers, and coastal communities. Research activities in the South Slough NERR are conducted by outside investigators, students, and Reserve scientists and may focus on a wide range of topics.
The goals of the South Slough NERR Research Program are to: 1) Conduct and coordinate research that increases understanding of ecological dynamics in the different hydrogeomorphic regions of South Slough, Coos Bay, and other Pacific Northwest estuaries. 2) Assess and monitor the status of estuarine habitats and biotic indicators in order to track short-term variability and long-term changes in estuarine habitats and communities. 3) Provide technical assistance and advisory services that contribute to efficient and effective management of estuaries in the Lower Columbia bioregion.
Although South Slough is currently revising its Management Plan, which includes the Research Program, research activities will continue to promote the use of the Reserve for research that addresses an interdisciplinary array of estuarine science questions and management issues defined by national priorities and regional needs. Some of these current priority research issues include The Development of Best Management Practices for Estuarine Aquaculture Activities, Interactive Hydrodynamic Model of the South Slough and Coos Estuary , Assessment and Mapping of Intertidal and Subtidal Estuarine Habitats and Communities, Restoration and Recovery of Native Olympic Oysters, Salt Marsh and Eelgrass Communities as Biotic Indicators of Estuarine Ecosystem Function, Bioinvasions and Ecological Impacts of Aquatic Non-Indigenous Species, and Physical and Biotic Links between the South Slough/Coos Estuary and the Nearshore Pacific Ocean.
Three themes identified for ongoing and future scientific investigations in the Reserve and to provide direction for researchers interested in working in the South Slough NERR are below. Examples of specific research projects that focus on these individual themes can be found in the Management Plan (2006-2011).
Estuarine Ecology and Assessments of Functional Biotic Diversity
What processes determine the composition and distribution of species assemblages and communities in the South Slough estuary, and to what extent are ecological relationships among diverse groups of organisms determined by top-down processes, bottom-up mechanisms, or environmental stress?
Investigation of Links Between Land-Margin Ecosystem Elements
What are the fundamental transfer mechanisms that provide material, bioenergetic, and life history linkages among upland, estuarine, and marine components of the South Slough ecosystem?
Evaluation of the Effects of Human Disturbance Within Estuaries
Research projects carried out under this theme address the general question:
What are the primary ecological impacts of chronic anthropogenic disturbance and human mediated stressors on biotic diversity, populations, communities, and habitat components in the South Slough estuary?