Landscape Ecology

, Volume 23, Supplement 1, pp 91–106 | Cite as

Effects of spatial extent on landscape structure and sediment metal concentration relationships in small estuarine systems of the United States’ Mid-Atlantic Coast

  • Jeffrey W. Hollister
  • Peter V. August
  • John F. Paul
Research Article


Prior studies exploring the quantitative relationship between landscape structure metrics and the ecological condition of receiving waters have used a variety of sampling units (e.g., a watershed, or a buffer around a sampling station) at a variety of spatial scales to generate landscape metrics resulting in little consensus on which scales best describe land-water relationships. Additionally, the majority of these studies have focused on freshwater systems and it is not clear whether results are transferable to estuarine and marine systems. We examined how sampling unit scale controls the relationship between landscape structure and sediment metal concentrations in small estuarine systems in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. We varied the spatial extent of the contributing watersheds used to calculate landscape structure and assessed linear relationships between estuarine sediment metal concentrations and the total area of developed and agricultural lands at each scale. Area of developed lands was consistently related to sediment metals while total agricultural land was not. Developed land had strongest associations with lead and copper; weakest with arsenic and chromium; and moderate associations with cadmium, mercury, and zinc. Local (i.e., less than 15−20 km from a sampling station) land uses have a greater impact than more distant land uses on the amount of toxic metals reaching estuarine sediments.


Scale Estuarine condition Landscape composition Estuarine sediment metal concentrations USEPA Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program (EMAP) National Land Cover Dataset (NLCD) 



We thank all reviewers of this manuscript for their time and effort whose thoughtful comments greatly improved our final product. We also thank the University of Rhode Island, the US Environmental Protection Agency, Rhode Island Natural History Survey, and the Rhode Island Chapter of Surfrider who provided funds and/or facilities for the successful completion of this project. The Department of Science and CAPT Mike Alfultis at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy deserve special mention as they provided time and support for JWH to put the finishing touches on this manuscript. JWH was initially partially supported through USEPA Cooperative Agreement CT825802, Brian D. Melzian, Project Officer. The research described in this paper has been funded in part by the US Environmental Protection Agency. This paper has not been subjected to Agency review. Therefore, it does not necessary reflect the views of the Agency. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute endorsement or recommendation for use. This is contribution number AED-06−074 of the Atlantic Ecology Division, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeffrey W. Hollister
    • 1
  • Peter V. August
    • 2
  • John F. Paul
    • 3
  1. 1.Atlantic Ecology Division, National Health and Environmental Effects Research LaboratoryOffice of Research and Development, US Environmental Protection AgencyNarragansettUSA
  2. 2.Department of Natural Resources ScienceUniversity of Rhode IslandKingstonUSA
  3. 3.National Health and Environmental Effects Research LaboratoryOffice of Research and Development, US Environmental Protection AgencyResearch Triangle ParkUSA

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