Sustaining Lakes in a Changing Environment (SLICE): A Long-term Monitoring and Evaluation Program

Jessica Hitt
Posted on: 7/24/2013 - Updated on: 3/02/2020

Posted by

Jessica Hitt

Project Summary

Sustaining Lakes in a Changing Environment (SLICE) is the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources’ (MDNR) Section of Fisheries’ long-term monitoring program. Information on water chemistry, fisheries, habitat, and other biological and chemical indicators is being gathered to assist in the development of management approaches that include a better understanding of how the state’s aquatic ecosystems respond to a variety of stressors. The first phase of the project (2008-2012) includes monitoring processes and exploring drivers of change in water quality and fish habitat condition in 24 sentinel lakes across the state’s four predominant ecosystem types. The second phase is slated to begin in 2012 and will examine and apply lessons learned from Phase 1 in order to create a robust, long-term lake monitoring program that includes land use and climate change considerations.


In 2008, the MDNR received a grant from the State Lottery’s Environmental and Natural Resource Trust Fund to develop a statewide, long-term lake monitoring program. Over recent decades, Minnesota has experienced increasing influences from land use changes, which will likely be further exacerbated by climate change. The state’s lakes are particularly vulnerable to warming temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, and a myriad of climate threats. MDNR Fisheries was particularly interested and concerned about the synergistic interactions of human stressors when coupled with the rising threat of climate change.

The SLICE program aims to monitor the region’s major stressors (climate change, invasive species, and land use practices) and evaluate the impacts these stressors have on the state’s aquatic habitats and fish communities in order to support long-term, sustainable lake ecosystem management. MDNR Fisheries, in conjunction with a coalition of partners, selected 24 sentinel lakes that are representative of the state’s major aquatic ecosystem types. These sites are being monitored for physical, chemical, and biological indicators; the data collected will be used to establish baseline information. This baseline data will enable the MDNR and partner organizations to more effectively and efficiently develop climate-smart management strategies and policies to achieve their common goal of sustainable aquatic systems. The information gathered will improve understanding of the lake ecosystems, how they react to stressors, and provide clarity on how stressors might be interacting synergistically. Furthermore, the SLICE program also aims to help managers evaluate the effectiveness of current Best Management Practices as well as future management actions.

The program is being carried out in two phases. Phase 1 (2008-2012) is an intensive survey, that focuses on collecting intensive data from sentinel lakes, giving managers a look at the temporal changes in lake conditions. The second phase, beginning in late 2012, will be an extensive survey, gathering samples from a wider range of lakes, providing a better spatial view of lake conditions across the state. Lessons learned from Phase 1 will be used to inform survey efforts in Phase 2 and focus on indicators that were identified as more sensitive to land use and climate change during the initial survey.


In previous years, the MDNR has conducted extensive lake surveys through their Lake Survey Program, an effort that covers as many as 2,200 lakes. However, the sporadically collected data was in such small sample sizes and from so many different sites it was insufficient for managers to use to identify the cause-effect relationships needed to shape management response strategies. The SLICE program was designed to gather exhaustive data from sentinel lakes, better enabling statewide managers to understand the cause-effect mechanisms and to predict ecosystem responses to changes in land use and climate.

The program also relies on support from a large group of partner organizations, which allows the program to reach beyond the jurisdiction and capacity of MDNR Fisheries. The program aims to facilitate a close collaboration among stakeholders and usher in a tradition of close cooperation. This collaboration will allow the monitoring program to run efficiently and effectively into the future and to support partners as they work to accomplish their mutual goals of healthy and productive Minnesota lakes. Many of the monitoring activities are being carried out by partner organizations and even private citizens; in addition, MDNR Fisheries works with partner organizations in sentinel lake communities to conduct outreach to inform interested stakeholders about SLICE and its efforts. The SLICE program partners include the:

Establishing the SLICE program required a significant amount of initial work and planning to select sentinel lakes, indentify major stressors, and determine appropriate stressor indicators. The 24 sentinel lakes were selected to be representative of the range of ecosystem types found in the state. Minnesota was classified into four ecoregion types (Shield, Forest, Transition, and Prairie) and six lakes were selected from each ecoregion. Lakes were also selected using additional criteria, such as lake stratification, phosphorous concentration, and existence of historic datasets. Eight sampling activities were selected as climate change indicators, including evaporation, ice-off, lake levels, precipitation, relative humidity, solar radiation, tributary flow, and wind energy. Overall, 58 sampling activities are being conducted in Phase 1 that are representative of a variety of indicators, including climate change, habitat, fish health, land cover, and human health; these activities are being conducted at different frequencies by various program partners. MDNR will examine how selected indicators vary naturally from year to year and identify any incidence of co-variance. This information and other lessons learned from Phase 1 will be used to inform future SLICE efforts.

Outcomes and Conclusions

The SLICE program’s objectives are to create a statewide, long-term monitoring program that will provide managers with baseline information and data to inform decision-making. The monitoring program aims to provide relevant information on major environment stressors, including climate change and land use, collect data on how those stressors are impacting lake habitats and fish populations, and forecast changes in stressor levels. This monitoring program will also allow managers and partner organizations to develop more effective management and response strategies as well as adaptation policies.

MDNR Fisheries believes that the data collected from SLICE will continue to spur relevant and interesting research projects at the University of Minnesota. Although the SLICE program has benefited from a grant and generous in-kind support from partner organizations, the main concern around program longevity is finding and sustaining other financial and technical support mechanisms.  


Hitt, J. L. (2012). Sustaining Lakes in a Changing Environment (SLICE): A Long-term Monitoring and Evaluation Program [Case study on a project of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources]. Product of EcoAdapt's State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE:… (Last updated October 2012)

Project Contacts

Position: Fisheries Research Supervisor - Habitat Group