The impact that hemlock tree die-offs have had — and continue to have — on freshwater forest ecosystems is the focus of a research project at the University of Maine.
Hamish Greig, a UMaine assistant professor of stream ecology, and Jacquelyn Gill, an assistant professor of terrestrial paleoecology at the Climate Change Institute (CCI) and the School of Biology and Ecology, are leading a research team that is studying past and present declines of the conifers known for their dense shade. The resulting biomass the dying trees introduce into the watershed, as well as the other tree species that take their place on the forest floor, affect freshwater systems, including streams and lakes.
Understanding those implications is particularly important in Maine, where hemlocks are now being threatened by the same exotic pest that, in recent years, has decimated the tree species in the southeastern United States.
“People in Maine have a huge affinity to their rivers and lakes. It’s huge economically; it’s huge socially, and through recreational activities,” says Greig, who is joined on the research team by research assistant professor Krista Caps, postdoctoral scientist Robert Northington, as well as several graduate, undergraduate and high school students.
About 5,500 years ago, the hemlocks of eastern North America sustained a massive die-off that lasted about 1,000 years, brought on by severe drought and the hemlock looper, a native pest, Gill says. Today, the tree species has been nearly decimated in the southeastern United States by the hemlock woolly adelgid, an exotic insect from Asia.
Maine’s cold winters typically protect against exotic pests. However, warmer temperatures have allowed exotic pests to thrive and move north. Since 2004, the hemlock woolly adelgid has been in southwestern Maine. This year, it has made it as far north as Owls Head, according to the researchers.
“As the climate warms, there won’t be anything preventing the woolly adelgid from hitting our hemlocks in Maine as hard as they’ve been hit elsewhere,” Gill says.
As part of their study, the research team has set up 36 livestock water tanks as experimental freshwater mesocosms, or isolated experimental environments. Hemlock needles, along with rhododendron and maple leaves, have been added to the ecosystems to observe what happens when a hemlock dies.
The mesocosms allow the scientists to study these isolated environments as they develop over time — in this case, into the fall.
“You can’t really control something in a natural lake,” Greig says. “And if you do experiments in the lab, you’re really simplifying things down to two or three species of invertebrates. By having this happy medium, we can have natural complexity with the controlled replication of a true experiment.”
Next, Gill and Northington will study radiocarbon-dated records from the bottom of lakes and bogs in southeastern, coastal and central Maine regions to help understand how aquatic systems were affected by hemlock die-off in the past. By linking the paleo record with a modern experiment, the team hopes to will new light on hemlock’s role in changing ecosystems.
William Livingston, School of Forest Resources, has received a more than $77,700 U.S. Department of Agriculture grant to study Caliciopsis in white pine. Many white pine stands in southern Maine and New Hampshire have suffered from declines and diebacks in the past 15 years. A fungal disease, Caliciopsis canker, has been frequently observed in these stands. Typically, the white pines stands suffering from Caliciopsis canker are those that are very dense, and foresters recommend that the stands should be thinned to improve tree growth. However, it is uncertain if stands infected with Caliciopsis canker will respond to stand thinning and improve growth; the uncut trees may not recover from the disease. The objectives for the study are to identify areas at greatest risk of Caliciopsis canker damage, assess effects of thinning in stands affected by Caliciopsis canker and develop management guidelines for reducing damage related to Caliciopsis canker.
The University of Maine is piloting an interdisciplinary course based on Maine tidal power development research that aims to better understand the process of applying a comprehensive approach to renewable energy projects.
The course, Marine Renewable Energy: Engineering, Oceanography, Biology and Human Dimensions, is coordinated by Gayle Zydlewski, an associate professor of marine biology, and is offered as an upper-level undergraduate or graduate course.
The course examines the basic science and field methods of understanding power generation, potential changes to the marine environment and effects on other users of marine resources, and how these disciplines intersect to provide a comprehensive understanding of coastal ecosystems.
Teaching is shared between Zydlewski; Michael Peterson and Raul Urbina from the Mechanical Engineering Department; Huijie Xue, an expert on physical oceanography; and Jessica Jansujwicz and Teresa Johnson, experts on human dimensions and sustainability science.
The last two weeks of the course are devoted to field work and final projects, where students are given the framework to apply concepts and “put it all together,” Zydlewski says.
Fieldwork is conducted on the Penobscot River, where students use acoustics, or sounds in water, to research and collect data about fish and water currents for their final project, which ties together what they learned in the field and in the classroom.
As part of the human dimensions aspect of the course, students visit Cianbro’s manufacturing facility in Brewer to learn about the company’s use of the river and the protocols it follows for development projects.
Since 2009, a group of UMaine researchers have been studying tidal power development independently while coming together to discuss their research, according to Zydlewski. The collaborative effort has resulted in integrated research approaches to better understand the marine environment and contribute to sustainable development through data-driven science with stakeholder input, Zydlewski says.
The focus of the class, she says, is to pass on the collective knowledge and information to the students, whose generation will be faced with all aspects of renewable energy development in coastal systems.
The majority of the 10 students in the course’s pilot year are engineers at the undergraduate and graduate level. Two students are marine science majors. Hometowns vary from York, Maine, to towns in Canada, Connecticut and Massachusetts, with half of the students coming from Brazil.
Even though the course is framed around what is happening with renewable energy in Maine, Zydlewski says, various forms of renewable energy development are also being considered in Brazil, and the students would like to be able to transfer and apply what they learn back home.
Why do some landowners embrace sustainability and conservation in their environs while others ignore these concepts altogether? This was one of the main questions Michael Quartuch explored in his doctoral research at UMaine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI).
It’s a complex query. As part of SSI’s People, Landscape and Communities team (PLACE), Quartuch, a recent Ph.D. graduate of SSI and UMaine’s School of Forest Resources, wanted to know what lurked beneath the surface of land use decision-making.
“At a broad level, my research focused on understanding and predicting the ways in which humans interact with and shape the surrounding environment. I was very interested in identifying why people are motivated to act sustainably. Specifically, I wanted to explore whether and to what degree landowner stewardship ethics influence individual land use decisions. Similarly, I wanted to test the role landowner place attachment and sense of community play in terms of influencing behavior,” Quartuch said.
Led by associate professors Kathleen Bell and Jessica Leahy, the PLACE team studied small landowners in Maine to develop solutions on key fronts. The team surveyed landowners in an effort to better understand their concerns, attitudes and behaviors. The responses are helping the team to identify outputs of interest to landowners and key stakeholders who frequently interact with them, including local businesses and local and state governments.
“The ability to tap into landowners’ moral and ethical connections with their land, including sense of place and community, has the potential to influence attitudes and behavior. Research findings suggest that landowners feel real responsibility for their property, a sense of stewardship that is evident in both their environmental attitude and their perception of their ability to act on these beliefs,” Quartuch said. “With this information in hand, we can deviate from traditional outreach and education efforts, concentrating on future conservation and sustainable development initiatives.”
Quartuch, a native of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, has accepted a postdoctoral research associate position at Cornell University in the Department of Natural Resources, Human Dimensions Research Unit. Quartuch’s research will focus on a variety of social aspects associated with wildlife management and conservation.
Supported by National Science Foundation award EPS-0904155 to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.
Two recent University of Maine graduates have been named the 2014 Higher Education Student Art Educators of the Year by the Maine Art Education Association (MAEA).
Elizabeth Miller of Kittery and Hilary Kane of Concord, New Hampshire, both graduated in May 2014. Miller earned a bachelor’s degree in art education with minors in studio art and art history. Kane received a bachelor’s degree in art education, as well as studio art.
The award is given to MAEA members who have completed their art student teaching internship within the academic year and have demonstrated outstanding evidence of professional leadership in schools and the community, use of new technology, and innovative teaching performance and written curricula. An award ceremony will be held in September during the 2014 MAEA conference at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine.
MAEA is the state chapter of the National Art Education Association, the leading professional membership organization for visual arts educators.
Miller, who is searching for a full-time teaching position, currently is an intern at the Piscataqua Fine Arts Gallery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and works at Art with a Splash, also in Portsmouth, teaching painting classes.
“This award is such an honor and I am very pleased to be able to represent the art education program at the university,” Miller said.
Kane plans to move to New Orleans in the fall where she will continue to focus on art education work and community arts.
Samuel Hanes, an assistant professor of anthropology, received a $28,444 grant from the National Science Foundation for the proposal, “Social capital and policy networks: Exploring the factors that influence adoption of pollinator conservation.”
The project aims to better understand obstacles and influential factors growers face when attempting to diversify pollination sources.
According to the proposal, insect pollination produces about $19 billion worth of crops in the U.S. annually. Farmers rent commercial honeybees to supply most of their crop pollination but the number of hives in the U.S. has dropped by more than 30 percent since 1980, leading to interest in alternate pollination sources.
The project will look at factors affecting lowbush blueberry growers’ use of wild, native bees to supplement honeybees.
UMaine graduate student Kourtney Collum will conduct the doctoral dissertation research project under Hanes’ supervision, and as part of UMaine’s anthropology and environmental policy doctoral program.
Collum will examine the factors that influence farmers’ adoption of pollinator conservation practices through a comparative study of blueberry growers in Maine — where there is an adequate honeybee supply — and Prince Edward Island, Canada — where there is a severe honeybee shortage.
The researchers will look closely at growers’ interaction with and perceptions of agricultural agencies and programs, as well as effects of agricultural policies and overall farm management, according to the proposal.
The RSVP program at the University of Maine Center on Aging was awarded a one-year $14,340 grant by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. Paula Burnett, RSVP program director, submitted the proposal to the Office of Aging and Disability Services (OADS) within Maine’s DHHS.
RSVP is part of the national Senior Corps — volunteers age 55 and older who serve nonprofit groups, schools and government agencies within their communities. The program is sponsored by UMaine Center on Aging with support from OADS, the Corporation for National and Community Service, the United Way of Eastern Maine and other local funding sources. OADS funding for RSVP partially supports the salaries of two employees.
Volunteer opportunities are available at 40 partnering agencies in Hancock, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Washington counties. About 200 volunteers, who average 75 years of age, are taking part in the program.
RSVP recruits volunteers in four major areas of impact: education, aging in place, access to care, and veteran and military family support services.
Erik Blomberg, an assistant professor of wildlife ecology in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation Biology at the University of Maine, received a $181,518 grant from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for his proposal, “Understanding population dynamics of ruffed grouse.”
The three-year project aims to better understand how forest management practices and sport hunting influence Maine’s ruffed grouse populations. According to the proposal, the native bird benefits from many forms of forest harvest and is widely used as a game species by Maine residents and visitors.
Blomberg and his team will implement a large-scale field study to evaluate how components of ruffed grouse biology, such as seasonal and annual survival and nest success, respond to different types of forest composition and management. Researchers also will estimate harvest rates throughout the annual hunting season from October to December.
Collected information will close a large gap in the current understanding of ruffed grouse ecology in the region and will contribute to future management of Maine’s popular game bird, as well as contribute to the general understanding of wildlife ecology in forest ecosystems, according to the researchers.
The researchers say they will work closely with the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to ensure results provide the greatest benefit to Maine wildlife management.
A University of Maine marine scientist will examine implications of climate change on farmers’ practices and the ensuing consequences for downstream coastal water systems.
Farmers are planting earlier than they were a few decades ago and that means applying fertilizer earlier and, for some crops, being able to plant twice in a growing season, says Damian Brady, assistant research professor at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine.
Brady will examine where the fertilizer goes and how changes in farming practices affect estuaries downstream that also are being impacted by other climate-related factors, including increased frequency of extreme storms and higher temperatures.
His research will concentrate on understanding these dynamics in Chesapeake Bay; but the findings are expected to apply to agricultural watersheds around the world.
Brady also anticipates learning how management policies with different rules and incentives affect farming behavior and, subsequently, impact watershed and estuary health.
The National Science Foundation awarded Brady nearly $124,000 to create multidisciplinary data-driven simulation models to test scientific hypotheses. The entire project team will provide training for approximately 10 master’s and doctoral students, share tools and knowledge with federal and state environmental management agencies and train 15 high school teachers.
Brady is the project’s assistant director. Collaborators are from The Johns Hopkins University, Cornell University and the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
He’ll start the four-year project, titled “WSC-Category 3 Collaborative: Impacts of Climate Change on the Phenology of Linked Agriculture-Water Systems” on Sept. 1.
University of Maine economist James Breece has traveled to China a half-dozen times and as a University of Maine System (UMS) representative, he recruited Chinese students for the seven UMS campuses.
When Breece — who specializes in macroeconomics, international trade and forecasting — recently returned to the classroom he thought it was important for UMaine to offer a course about the Chinese economy.
After all, in the last decade, China’s economy grew seven times faster than that of the United States. China is the largest exporter and second-largest importer on the planet and, with a population of 1.3 billion, its workforce is considerable.
So he designed and guided a spring 2014 course titled The Chinese Economy that examined its transformation and impact on global trading patterns, distribution of wealth and the environment. A total of 43 students, including 12 graduate students, enrolled.
Breece dubs the class format “Leveraged Flip” — one in which students read assigned textbooks, write papers and view videos outside of class and interact with guest speakers and participate in discussion during class time.
He called upon UMaine colleagues who concentrate in Chinese culture, food, history, language and government to share their expertise with students. Other guest lecturers included Michael Riedel from the American Embassy in Beijing, as well as gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler, an attorney who lived in Beijing for several years and represented investors in the Chinese market.
The class “was an unbelievable learning experience,” says Elyse Doyle of Gray, Maine, who is on track to earn a master’s in economics in May 2015. “It was unlike any course I had ever taken.”
Mike Kuhn of Bridgewater, New Jersey, says in this increasingly globalized environment, he took the class to understand how the world’s largest economy functioned from a business perspective.
“The format of the class was probably the best I’ve ever taken part in because we got actual exposure to people who have lived through both success and failure in China, both of which provided insightful feedback,” says Kuhn, who recently graduated with a Master of Business Administration.
“Dr. Breece has done a fantastic job of giving students an in-depth, hands-on experience of what China is all about as opposed to staring at a book and sitting through lectures, neither of which spark much interest.”
The pedagogy was so successful that Breece is replicating it this fall in a course titled Health Economics. He’ll team-teach with staff from Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems and continue to invite a variety of guest speakers.
Breece, a forecaster of national and state economies, says this format makes it possible to maintain important classes during a fiscal climate in which some colleges are struggling to replace retiring professors.