Research ProjectChesapeake Working Land and Seascapes

Chesapeake Working Land and Seascapes

  • cornfield

    Working landscapes in the Chesapeake watershed offer a mosaic of habitats from fields to forests.

  • Marsh and oyster reef

    Oyster reefs occur along the edge of the salt marsh in Virginia's coastal bays.

  • Maps

    Mapping is critical to the study of working land and seascapes.

  • oyster reef

    Restoring oyster reefs is a key part of rebuilding the Chesapeake's working seascapes.

Project Goal

The goal of this project is to work with local partners to synthesize historic and current data on the Chesapeake Bay watershed.


The Chesapeake Bay is America's largest estuary and encompasses a mosaic of diverse ecosystems. From the upland forests of New York to the Atlantic coast of Northern Virginia, the Chesapeake watershed, estuary and adjacent coastal ocean support unique biodiversity and vital ecosystem processes. Examples of these critical ecosystem processes include capturing runoff, sequestering carbon, and fixing nitrogen.  The connected land and seascapes also serve as the foundation for many livelihoods based on a variety of industries, such as agriculture, forestry, shipping, and fisheries.

Historic and current anthropogenic changes in the watershed and estuary have altered terrestrial and aquatic habitats, as well as the land-sea interface. Perhaps most notably, anthropogenic changes have led to declines in habitat patch size and connectivity. For example, overfishing reduces the size of oyster reefs and increases the distance between reefs, just as deforestation leads to smaller and less contiguous forest patches. In both land and seascapes, reductions in habitat patch size and connectivity are associated with loss of biodiversity and ecosystem processes. Similarly, livelihoods that depend on the Chesapeake Bay’s natural resources have also experienced losses through time. Across the estuary, restoration efforts are actively working to reduce both ecological and economic losses (e.g., reforestation, stream and wetland restoration, oyster restoration).

From forests to oyster reefs and cities to ports, a better understanding of habitat patch dynamics would facilitate management of the Chesapeake Bay estuary in a way that maximizes both ecosystem services and economic activity. The depth of past research within the estuary provides a unique opportunity to ask questions about how anthropogenic changes affect working land and seascapes through time. Moreover, the unusually engaged stakeholder community in this region is a chance for enhanced connections between scientific advances and decision-making. The Chesapeake Working Land and Seascapes project strives to connect historical changes to present day efforts to manage and restore the Chesapeake Bay estuary. We are working to bring together scientists and stakeholders in the region to create a historical and future timeline in hopes of improving life for the flora, fauna, and communities that call the estuary home.


Project Goals

  1. Synthesize.  We are working with a diverse set of partners to combine the vast amount of existing data from the Chesapeake Bay region to identify how the land, the sea and the land-sea interface have changed over time.
  2. Assess.  We will compare newly collected observational and experimental data to historical data to determine how land/sea-use change and management efforts have impacted local biodiversity and ecosystem functioning through time in the Chesapeake Bay region.
  3. Strengthen Community. We are developing tools and protocols for citizen scientists and K-12 students to participate in data collection to address gaps in our existing knowledge about the estuary.
  4. Translate. We plan to use our data to develop and share models that forecast potential ecosystem outcomes to help inform land managers, stakeholders, and policy makers.

If you’re interested in collaborating, contributing data, or participating as a citizen scientist(s) please contact project leaders Matt Ogburn or Kim Komatsu. Find out more about our project on the Chesapeake WLS StoryMap and learn about Smithsonian's Working Land and Seascapes Initiative at