At the interface of the Great Lakes and their tributary rivers lies the rivermouths, a class of aquatic ecosystem where lake and lotic processes mix and distinct features emerge. Many rivermouths are the focal point of both human interaction with the Great Lakes and human impacts to the lakes; many cities, ports, and beaches are located in rivermouth ecosystems, and these human pressures often degrade key ecological functions that rivermouths provide. Despite their ecological uniqueness and apparent economic importance, there has been relatively little research on these ecosystems as a class relative to studies on upstream rivers or the open-lake waters. Here we present a synthesis of current knowledge about ecosystem structure and function in Great Lakes rivermouths based on studies in both Laurentian rivermouths, coastal wetlands, and marine estuarine systems. A conceptual model is presented that establishes a common semantic framework for discussing the characteristic spatial features of rivermouths. This model then is used to conceptually link ecosystem structure and function to ecological services provided by rivermouths. This synthesis helps identify the critical gaps in understanding rivermouth ecology. Specifically, additional information is needed on how rivermouths collectively influence the Great Lakes ecosystem, how human alterations influence rivermouth functions, and how ecosystem services provided by rivermouths can be managed to benefit the surrounding socioeconomic networks.
Additional publication details
Great Lakes rivermouth ecosystems: scientific synthesis and management implications