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Applying a Bioassessment and Monitoring Framework for Public Lands and Trust Resources along the Atlantic Coast

Barnett A. Rattner
USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center

The Biomonitoring of Environmental Status and Trends (BEST) program is designed to assess and monitor the effects of environmental contaminants on biological resources, particularly those under the stewardship of the Department of the Interior. BEST examines contaminant issues at the national, regional, and local scales, and uses field monitoring techniques and information assessment tools tailored to each scale. As part of this program, the threat of contaminants and other anthropogenic activities to terrestrial vertebrates residing in or near to Atlantic coast estuarine ecosystems is being evaluated by data synthesis and field activities.


1. Summarize information on contaminant exposure and effects in terrestrial vertebrates residing in or near Atlantic coast estuarine ecosystems.

2. Evaluate the relative sensitivity and suitability of various wildlife species for regional contaminant monitoring of estuaries and ecological risk assessment.

3. Conduct a preliminary risk assessment of contaminant and other anthropogenic threats to terrestrial vertebrates at selected Atlantic coast estuaries to rank ecosystem health and identify critical data gaps.

4. Undertake focused biological sampling and evaluations to generate critically needed information on contamination and other anthropogenic threats to estuarine wildlife.


Contaminant Exposure and Effects-Terrestrial Vertebrates (CEE-TV) Database: This database summarizes retrospective contaminant exposure and effects information for free-ranging amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals residing within approximately 30 kilometers of Atlantic coast estuaries. Data were obtained through computerized literature searches of Fisheries Review, Wildlife Review, and BIOSIS Previews, solicitation of unpublished biomonitoring data natural resource managers and scientists, and examination of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Ecological Incident Information System and the National Wildlife Health Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Diagnostic and Epizootic Databases. Data records contain information on species name, collection time and site coordinates, sample matrix, contaminant and its concentration, biomarker and bioindicator responses, and source of information, in a 96-field format using Borland dBase for windows. To date, CEE-TV contains over 3699 records for the north Atlantic estuarine ecosystems (Maine south through Florida), with representation from 190 species of terrestrial vertebrates.

Type of information collected:

Information in the CEE-TV database can be searched, sorted, and queried. For example, about 50% of the records include concentrations of organochlorine pesticides and PCBs, while only 10% of the records include biomarker or bioindicator response data. On a state-wide basis, New York and Florida have the largest number of records while New Hampshire, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia have the fewest number of records. Furthermore, the data can be imported into ARC/Info Geographic Information System for purposes of examining geographic coverage and trends.

Link to Contaminant Exposure and Effects--Terrestrial Vertebrates (CEE-TV) Database

Each point represents the location of a data record:

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Species Characterizations: Published and gray literature are being summarized on the biomonitoring and ecological characteristics of twenty terrestrial species commonly found in Atlantic coast estuaries. Utilizing more than 700 references,   characterizations have been compiled for twenty-five species.

Summary Data for the Estuarine 'Top 25'

Status in Estuaries
Abundance and Range
Site Fidelity
Ease of Census
Feeding Habits
Contaminant Exposure Data
Contaminant Effects Data
Herring Gull
Bald Eagle
Clapper Rail
Tree Swallow
Greater Scaup
Black Duck
Snapping Turtle
Common Tern
Black-crowned Night-heron
Great Blue Heron
Double-crested Cormorant
Brown Pelican
Mute Swan
Laughing Gull
Black Skimmer
Snowy Egret
Ruddy Duck
Tricolored Heron
American Oystercatcher
Gull-billed Tern
Diamond-backed Terrapin

Other species are also being considered for such characterizations.

These summary data will be analyzed to characterize and compare the relative sensitivity and suitability of these species for detecting exposure and effects of various types of contaminants and anthropogenic stressors in our estuaries.
Link to Biological and Ecotoxicological Characteristics of Terrestrial Vertebrate Species Residing in Estuaries

Future Activities and Products

Information in the CEE-TV database will be summarized and evaluated to identify contaminant threats to terrestrial vertebrates, rank ecosystem health at selected Atlantic coast estuaries, identify data gaps, and focus biomoitoring efforts to generate critically needed information on contamination and other anthropogenic threats to estuarine wildlife.

A searchable database on contaminant exposure and effects in terrestrial vertebrates for Atlantic coast estuaries available on disk and the Internet.

Peer-reviewed publication dealing with geographic, temporal and phylogenetic contaminant trends for Atlantic coast estuaries.

A summary of biological characteristics, and contaminant exposure and effects data for twenty terrestrial species residing in Atlantic coast estuaries will be made publicly available via Internet.

Peer-reviewed publication on the relative sensitivity and suitability of these species as sentinels of environmental contamination.

Project Staff

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, U.S. Geological Survey
Barnett A. Rattner, Ph.D.
Jonathan B. Cohen, M.S.
R. Michael Erwin, Ph.D.
Lynda J. Garrett, B.A.
Thomas E. Shallenberger, Ph.D.

Department of Animal and Avian Sciences, University of Maryland
Mary Ann Ottinger, Ph.D.
Jennifer L. Pearson, M.S.
Nancy H. Golden, B.S.

Principal Contact:
Barnett A. Rattner, Ph.D.
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center
U.S. Geological Survey
12011 Beech Forest Road
Laurel, Maryland 20708-4041
Telephone: 301-497-5671
FAX: 301-497-5675

Link to USGS BEST program