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Watershed Studies

In the early 1990's, the Pinelands Commission initiated a long-term environmental-monitoring program with the ultimate goal of evaluating the ecological consequences of the Comprehensive Management Plan for the Pinelands National Reserve.  The main objectives of this program are to characterize the effect of existing land-use patterns on aquatic and wetland resources and to monitor long-term changes in these resources.  A study of the Mullica River Watershed (Zampella et al. 2001), which was the initial focus of the monitoring program, demonstrated that changes in the composition of stream vegetation, fish assemblages, and anuran (frog and toad) communities paralleled gradients of increasing land-use intensity and water-quality degradation.  Based on the results of the Mullica River Watershed study, Commission scientists completed studies assessing the status of selected aquatic and wetland resources of the Rancocas Creek Watershed (Zampella et al. 2003), Great Egg Harbor River Watershed (Zampella et al. 2005), and Barnegat Bay Watershed (Zampella et al. 2006).

The results of the watershed studies revealed that the surface-water quality and biological communities found in forested stream basins generally contrasted with those attributes found in basins with a high percentage of altered land (developed land and upland agriculture).  Acid waters and typical Pinelands biological communities characterized survey sites in forest-dominated stream basins.  Elevated pH and specific conductance and nonnative plant and animal species were associated with stream basins with a high percentage of altered lands.  Both pH and specific conductance in streams and lakes increased in relation to the percentage of altered land in a drainage basin, and nitrate concentrations were higher in the more heavily altered basins.

Fish Assemblages

The composition of Mullica River, Rancocas Creek, and Barnegat Bay stream-fish assemblages varied along a watershed-disturbance gradient characterized by increasing pH, specific conductance, and the percentage of altered land in a basin.  The percentage of native-fish species decreased and the percentage of nonnative species increased along this disturbance gradient.  Similar changes in impoundment-fish assemblages were associated with variations in pH, specific conductance, and/or altered land.

Bluespotted sunfish, Banded sunfish, and Blackbanded sunfish

 Characteristic Pinelands streams and impoundments support native-fish species, such as the Bluespotted sunfish (Enneacanthus gloriosus), Banded sunfish (Enneacanthus obesus), and the Blackbanded sunfish (Enneacanthus chaetodon).

Bluegill, Pumpkinseed and Largemouth bass

Nonnative fish species often found in degraded waters are the Bluegill (Lepomis macrochirus), Pumpkinseed (Lepomis gibbosus), and Largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides).

Anuran (frog and toad) communities

Conditions at Mullica River, Rancocas Creek, and Barnegat Bay sites where native-anuran species were heard contrasted with those observed at sites that supported non-Pinelands frogs, especially bullfrogs. Compared to native carpenter frogs, bullfrogs were generally found at impoundments with elevated pH and specific conductance and a high percentage of altered land in the associated drainage basin.  Strong or consistent relationships between the anuran and fish community gradients and watershed-disturbance variables in the Great Egg Harbor River Watershed were lacking, possibly due to the general absence of minimally disturbed fish or anuran sites and the widespread distribution of nonnative species in the watershed.

Pine Barrens treefrog, Carpenter frog, and Southern leopard frog

The native Pine Barrens treefrog (Hyla andersonii), Carpenter frog (Rana virgatipes), and Southern leopard frog (Rana utricularia) are usually found in high-quality Pinelands habitats.

Nonnative frogs, such as the Bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana), Northern cricket frog (Acris c. crepitans), and Pickerel frog (Rana palustris) are associated with habitats impacted by land-use-related watershed disturbance.

Stream Vegetation

In all four major watersheds, variations in stream-vegetation patterns, represented by a decrease in the percentage of native-Pinelands species and an increase in the percentage of non-Pinelands species, were associated primarily with increasing pH, specific conductance, and the percentage of altered land in a basin.  Based on the results of Mullica River Watershed, several non-Pinelands plants were classified as disturbance-indicator species.

Characteristic Pinelands aquatic and wetland habitats support native-plant species, such as Orange milkwort (Polygala lutea), Golden club (Orontium aquaticum), Water lily (Nymphaea odorata), and Meadow beauty (Rhexia virginica). 

Non-Pinelands plants, such as Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), Larger starwort (Callitriche heterophylla), and Joe pye weed (Eupatorium dubium), are often associated with degraded habitats.

Download Individual Watershed Reports

Mullica River Watershed:  Zampella et al. 2001   (18.9 MB)

Rancocas Creek Watershed:  Zampella et al. 2003   (8.6 MB)

Great Egg Harbor River Watershed:  Zampella et al. 2005   (11.9 MB)

Barnegat Bay Watershed:  Zampella et al. 2006   (5.6 MB)

Download Watershed Geospatial Data

The watershed geospatial data contains a WinZip file that includes individual Pinelands-wide GIS layers for anurans, fish, vegetation, and water-quality sites and the watersheds associated with all of the sites, along with the metadata for each layer.  Below are links to quickly access the geospatial data and supporting metadata. The use of these data layers should include reference to one or more of the Pinelands Commission watershed reports available for download above.

Watershed Geospatial-data Download

Anuran Geospatial Metadata

Fish Geospatial Metadata

Stream-vegetation Geospatial Metadata 

Water-quality Geospatial Metadata

Watersheds Geospatial Metadata