Muskegon River Mega Model




Q: What is the “Mega Model”?

A: Also known as the Muskegon River Ecological Modeling System (MREMS), the Mega Model is best described as a large set of independent models that treat various aspects of the Muskegon River ecosystem, but which are synchronized by shared inputs from climate, land cover, and river network models.

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Q: Who worked on the Mega Model?

A: The Muskegon Watershed Research Partnership was composed of researchers from the University of Michigan (UM), Michigan State University (MSU), Grand Valley State University (GVSU), Purdue University, Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) Fisheries Division. A number of regional stakeholder organizations also collaborated on the development of the Mega Model for assessing the Muskegon River Watershed.

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Q: How was the Mega Model funded?

A:  The Great Lakes Fishery Trust (GLFT) was the primary funder of the Mega Model project. The Wege Foundation funded the acquisition of land use change data throughout the watershed, and the Michigan Great Lakes Protection Fund helped fund a study of the relationship between high quality environments and economic vitality.  Other funders also included the Fremont Area Community Foundation.

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Q: What is unique about the Mega Model?

A: The most unique aspect of the Mega Model project was the amount of collaboration that took place. The project combined a considerable wealth of data, experience, and tools that already exist in Michigan. In addition to this, the project utilizes the diverse talents of many different organizations.  Lastly, the project built on existing models, data, and management tools to create a system-wide model to assess different scenarios in the Muskegon River Watershed.

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Q: What problems in the Muskegon River Watershed does the Mega Model address?

A:  Problem areas explored by the Mega Model simulations included:

  • Land use and land cover changes in the watershed (development, urbanization)
  • Erosion and sedimentation in the watershed
  • Muskegon River fisheries
  • Climate change
  • Effects of dams on the river system

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Q: What does the Mega Model conclude about the conditions in the Muskegon River Watershed?

A: Based on MWRP studies the Muskegon River today is one of the best examples of an ecologically healthy river system in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula (only about 10% of river miles are ecologically degraded).  However, if we continue with our current practices more than 21% of the Muskegon River’s miles will be ecologically degraded by 2070.

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Q: How can Mega Model results be used by local decision makers?

A:The results of this model can be used by a variety of local officials as a decision tool to explore the various management options and to understand the trends and dynamics occurring across the watershed. For example researchers suggest:

  • Controlling the rate of urban sprawl is the single most potent tool available to protect the future of the river, its fishery, and its receiving waters, including Lake Michigan
  • Maximizing forest cover in the future will (as it has in the past) provide substantial mitigation of the effects of urban and agricultural development
  • Maximizing farmland preservation in an ecologically sound manner requires a simultaneous reduction in rates of urban sprawl
  • The prospect of climate change makes rational land use planning all the more imperative
  • Workshop series to instruct local decision-makers on how to incorporate these tools for better land use management

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Q: How can Mega Model results be used by property owners?

A: Using the Mega Model results, property owners can begin to plan for the future.  Scientist predict that in the decades to come, higher precipitations from climate change will lead to an increase in streamflows.  Natural rivers respond to increasing flows by combinations of channel migration, changes in meander size/frequency/location, the filling of some channel segments with sediment, and the erosion of new flow paths in others. The most realistic management approach is likely to be reducing collateral damage to property by setting aside riparian buffer lands and allowing the necessary geomorphic adjustment to occur.

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Q: What did the Mega Model conclude about the fish populations in the watershed?


Pike & Smallmouth

All scenarios show a rise in population


All scenario show a greater than 10% decrease in populations


RUS and BAU scenarios show a 10% increase in populations, while each of the FLP scenarios have a slight decrease


All scenario show a decrease in populations, while BAU and FLP2 have decreases greater than 20%

Fish Overall

Populations in the RUS scenario is the only scenario where populations stay the same. BAU and FLP2 show a greater than 25% decrese in poplations

Biological Response in MREMS to Landscape Scenarios relative to 1998

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Q: Why are computer models used to do this research (rather than collecting real data)?

A:  First, we must understand what a model is.  A model is a simplified version of the complex reality, such as river systems.  Scientist build models based on the best available scientific theory and relevant data. If a model faithfully represents essential processes, we can study the way it responds to various changes and disturbances (management scenarios in this case), and hope to understand something about the way a real system will behave in the future.

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This project is funded by the Great Lakes Fishery Trust as part of the Muskegon River Watershed Initiative.
Contact John Koches at for website information.



Page last modified December 6, 2011