The University of Maine Cooperative Extension was mentioned in a Portland Press Herald article about changes in U.S. Department of Agriculture standards that require organic beer to be brewed with organic hops and how those changes are inspiring more Maine brewers to grow hops. According to the article, UMaine Extension is testing several organic hop varieties to see which thrive and can make tasty brews in Maine.
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.
WLBZ (Channel 2) spoke with Robert Rice, a professor of wood science and technology at the University of Maine, for a report on mill officials remaining optimistic about Old Town Fuel and Fiber’s future despite the recent shutdown of the mill. Rice said if mill owners choose to sell, they should consider options, including whether the new owner will continue researching biofuels. He added one of the major challenges the mill faced was that it produced only market pulp, an operational structure that is becoming less viable in the United States.
Bangor’s first Startup Weekend will be Sept. 19–21, focused on jump-starting companies and networking entrepreneurs.
Startup Weekend Bangor will be held Sept. 19 at Bagel Central, 33 Central St., Bangor, and Sept. 20–21 at the University of Maine’s Foster Center for Student Innovation and the Innovative Media Research and Commercialization (IMRC) Center. Registration is $99 per person ($75 through Sept. 5); $25 for students. Registration and more information is online.
The hands-on, immersive event is part of Startup Weekend Maine, which brings designers, developers and entrepreneurs together to pitch their startup ideas and receive peer feedback. Teams form around the top ideas — determined by popular vote — and spend the remainder of the three days building a business model. Final presentations before local entrepreneurial leaders culminate the weekend.
Startup Weekend Portland was held June 13; Startup Weekend Auburn is Nov. 14. The events take their mission from the global grassroots effort Startup Weekends that helps community volunteers organize the 54-hour events to share ideas, form teams, build products and launch startups, according to its website.
The community organizers of Startup Weekend Bangor include Jesse Moriarity and Jennifer Hooper of the Foster Center for Student Innovation; Chuck Carter of Eagre Interactive; Gerry Hall of Emera Maine; UMaine students Silvia Guzman and Michael Kennedy; and Erika Allison, winner of Startup Weekend Portland.
UMaine is a Blackstone Accelerates Growth (BxG) partner and Bangor is one of three regional BxG Innovation Hubs.
The University of Maine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture (CCAR) in Franklin was mentioned in an Aquaculture North America article about Acadia Harvest Inc. of Brunswick, Maine, reaching the final pilot phase of its work on land-based re-circ aquaculture of California yellowtail. The company also is laying the groundwork for commercial production of yellowtail, and hopes to add black sea bass in the future, the article states. Taylor Pryor, a chief scientist and marine biologist at Acadia Harvest Inc., said the company wouldn’t have accomplished as much in the past three years without the expertise at CCAR, which supports aquaculture business incubation. “The CCAR staff are wonderfully competent in their hatchery work,” Pryor said. “Having their expertise and the CCAR facility can vastly reduce the time needed to move projects forward.”
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 Foster Center for Student Innovation at the University of Maine was mentioned in a SeacoastOnline opinion piece titled “Innovators key to Maine’s economy,” by Rep. Deane Rykerson. “The collective efforts of the Foster Center at the University of Maine, the Maine Center for Entrepreneurship, the Maine Center for Creativity, Maine Technology Institute, Envision Maine, Accelerate Maine and others are building a base of innovators and entrepreneurs, and establishing a Maine brand as the place to be if you want to innovate,” the article states.
A Portland Press Herald article about Maine bakeries using more local grains mentioned the Northern New England Local Bread Wheat Project, a USDA-funded collaboration of researchers, farmers, millers and bakers in Vermont and Maine that aims to help farmers increase organic bread wheat production and quality. For the past four years, Alison Pray, co-owner of the Standard Baking Co. in Portland, has been working with the Northern New England Local Bread Wheat Project at the University of Maine and the Northern Grain Growers Association. The groups occasionally send her new heritage wheat varieties to bake with so she can evaluate their properties and flavor, according to the article.
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.
Jeff Lord concedes he does a lot of sitting, watching and waiting along the herring ladder at Highland Lake. But when gangs of alewives begin to leap and flop their way upriver from Mill Brook, his patience is well rewarded.
“It can get a little boring, so I really appreciate when there is action,” the Falmouth resident said as he gazed at the rushing waters. “It’s a chance to put my biology background to work at something that matters.”
Lord and about 13 other volunteers keep count of migrating herring, mainly alewives, as they make their way up fish ladders to traditional freshwater spawning areas. The newly established volunteer monitoring program is a joint research project of UMaine and University of Southern Maine (USM). Scientists want to see if volunteers can help government managers and university researchers amass important data on spring run alewife — something likely too expensive to accomplish otherwise.
The now-retired Lord, who has a Ph.D. in entomology, saw a chance to use his biology knowledge in a public service capacity. He sees citizen programs as a way to engage the public by introducing projects that affect their home turf: “I think that as more people get involved in this type of project and communicate with others, there will be more support for these kinds of conservation efforts,” Lord said.
The role of citizen science in sustainable river herring harvest is the focus of a $96,600 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. Growing out of a project at UMaine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative, a program of the Senator George J. Mitchell Center, the overall goals are threefold:
UMaine co-principal investigators are Karen Hutchins Bieluch, visiting assistant professor of communication and journalism, Linda Silka, director of the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center and professor of economics; and Laura Lindenfeld, associate professor of communications and journalism and the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center. Co-principal investigators from USM are Theodore Willis, adjunct assistant research professor of environmental science; and Karen Wilson, assistant research professor of environmental science. Jason Smith, master’s student at USM, is the project research assistant.
Volunteers for pilot projects in Windham and Pembroke, are already hard at work using good old-fashioned manual clickers to count as many fish as possible. Data from the Windham project is checked against recordings from a video camera installed by researchers. If the video and citizen counts match, the pilot program will be a viable alternative to expensive and difficult to maintain counting equipment, project scientists say.
This past year between 49,000 and 62,000 alewives climbed the Highland Lake ladder in Windham. The huge range occurred because a first wave of fish began leaving the lake before stragglers had finished migrating upstream, researchers say. It created some confusion for the volunteers, they said, something to iron out as the project moves forward. Though researchers hope to eventually have good estimates of newly spawned river herring streaming down the ladder, this first year focused mainly on citizen science group formation and learning methodology. Next year, researchers hope for a deeper pool of volunteers who will be ready to go by the start of migration in May. And if the adult count goes well next year, focus can shift to the little ones leaving the lake, which can number in the thousands per hour.
The big question: Can citizens be engaged in counts long term? USM fisheries scientist Willis thinks herring are charming enough to sustain interest.
“River herring are one of the few marine species that people can interact with because they swim inland to where we live,” Willis said. “There are dry spells in the counting, but then there will be 830 alewife an hour zipping past you. Early in the run there were thousands of fish piled up in the stream trying to work their way up the ladder.”
So much so that half the total count for 2014 was tallied in the first five days, Willis said.
Maine is one of only three states currently harvesting river herring and maintaining a viable fishery has been tough. Though herring fisheries are managed locally, they must comply with criteria issued by the Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR). Among the rules:
“What we’re beginning to learn from our interviews is that these volunteer monitoring programs provide critical data for managers assessing the sustainability of a run for harvesting population trends, and the effectiveness of particular restoration efforts. More than just collection of data, these programs help build a sense of community around a local resource and increase local awareness of the fish. A sense of stewardship is essential for protecting river herring, now and in the future” said investigator Hutchins Bieluch.
Researchers are hopeful that this project will not only help jumpstart new monitoring programs, but will also facilitate communication between volunteers, local government officials, harvesters, and managers.
Contact: Tamara Field, 207.420.7755