Bangor Daily News editorial page editor Erin Rhoda highlights University of Maine graduate student Rachael Joyce in a blog titled Arguably.
Joyce, who is studying civil engineering and works at the university’s Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center developing offshore wind turbine technology, also assists her boyfriend with Volition Ski Co. — a startup company that hand-builds skis. Consider the positive impact, writes Rhoda, if 2,000 more young, talented people from Maine chose to stay and work and create businesses in the state.
Understanding how forests function as complex adaptive systems and predicting the future characteristics of Maine’s woods are goals of a project by a team of University of Maine researchers.
The study also aims to improve an open-source forest ecosystem model to help make project insights more transferable to research in other forests.
Erin Simons-Legaard, a post-doctoral research scientist in the UMaine School of Forest Resources, is principal investigator of the project titled “When natural disturbance meets land-use change: An analysis of disturbance interactions and ecosystem resilience in the Northern Forest of New England.”
“We can’t control everything, but it’s important to understand the processes that are controlling what type of forest grows after it’s cut down and identify the underlying interactions between the human decision-making process and ecological dynamics,” Simons-Legaard says. “Once we identify where the interactions are the strongest, we know what pathways we can use if we want to change what our future forests will look like.”
Working with Simons-Legaard on the project are Jessica Leahy, an associate professor of human dimensions of natural resources at UMaine; Kasey Legaard, an associate scientist in the School of Forest Resources; Aaron Weiskittel, an associate professor of forest biometrics and modeling and Irving Chair of Forest Ecosystem Management at UMaine; and Emily Silver, a Ph.D. student in the School of Forest Resources.
The two-year project, which began in July 2013, was awarded a $235,494 National Science Foundation grant.
The relationship between the biophysical and social subsystems is an important factor in understanding how forest ecosystems work as complex systems.
“No two acres of forest are exactly the same unless you plant it — if even then — and that’s because forests are complex,” Simons-Legaard says.
The researchers are creating future projections of the northern half of Maine — about 10 millions acres — by focusing on the interactions between man-made disturbances such as harvesting and development, and natural disturbances such as wind and pests.
Periodically Maine’s northern forests will have an infestation of the eastern spruce budworm — a pest that targets balsam fir and spruce trees, two common and economically important tree species in Maine. During the last outbreak, a lot of spruce-fir forest became infested and was then salvaged. In many areas, fir and spruce were replaced by shade-intolerant northern hardwoods that can establish and grow faster than the softwood trees in open areas. This replacement can occur when spruce-fir forest is harvested before the understory completely develops.
“Researchers are trying to understand what drives that shift from softwood to hardwood and what it might mean for natural resources like wood supply and wildlife habitat,” Simons-Legaard says. “Maine’s northern forest has traditionally been spruce-fir dominated, and a big shift toward hardwood in a historical context would be unprecedented.”
For several years, Simons-Legaard and her husband Kasey Legaard had focused on the state’s two main disturbance agents — harvesting and spruce budworm. Since their research began, the pair noticed more discussion about development and what role it could potentially play in northern Maine.
The researchers decided to include land-use change as a disturbance to take a more comprehensive approach to understanding how forests work.
“Taking this approach means recognizing you have the natural system with its components — trees, soil communities of microbes and bacteria, wildlife community — and they are all interacting. Then you have people interacting in their social system and making decisions. In a forest, the natural system and the human system interact,” Simons-Legaard says.
Learning more about these interactions and how they might be influenced by different disturbances is at the core of the team’s research.
“For the social side the focus is on what influences a landowner’s decision to stop producing timber and develop. That’s what Jessica Leahy and graduate student researcher Emily Silver are focused on; the decision-making process of the landowners,” she says.
To make their results more transferable to other timber-producing forests, the team used an already-established software program instead of creating a project-specific program. The group is using LANDIS-II, a cell-based forest ecosystem model which has an active community of users and developers. Any improvements the researchers make to the software can quickly be distributed to all of its users.
Using a map of initial forest conditions and text files describing the life history characteristics of the area’s tree species, the program creates future projections of the forest by growing trees, dispersing seed, establishing new cohorts of trees and accounting for natural mortality. The program also has extensions that allow the researchers to add disturbances, such as harvesting.
For two years the team has been preparing the input files. The map of the area’s initial conditions of tree species and forest age was created using satellite imagery and U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) plot data.
Text files created for the 13 most abundant tree species in Maine describe how species’ growth and mortality is influenced by environmental conditions. The files help the program model species establishment and competition after a disturbance.
“These text files have to describe in numerical terms what tree-species competition looks like and how species rank in terms of competitive ability,” Simons-Legaard says.
Once the files are complete, the information is entered into LANDIS-II, along with the disturbance extensions, to determine what Maine’s forests will look like in the future.
“There’s also a regional focus because we’re trying to understand Maine’s forests better; both the natural components, how they interact, how tree-species competition determines whether a forest comes out as softwood or hardwood, and how Maine’s landowners make their decisions,” Simons-Legaard says.
As spruce budworm begins to make its return and land-use change becomes more frequent, asking the preemptive “what if?” questions are important in determining where Maine’s forests are headed in the next 50 or 100 years, she says.
Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747
A $1.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation will allow a multidisciplinary team of researchers to examine the impact of rising ocean temperatures on the ecology and economics of the Gulf of Maine.
Led by Andrew Pershing from the University of Maine and Gulf of Maine Research Institute (GMRI), the team will conduct a four-year project as part of the NSF’s Coastal SEES (Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability) Initiative to support collaborative studies.
“Climate change is impacting the distribution of fish and lobsters in the Gulf of Maine,” Pershing says, “and these ecological changes can have significant economic consequences.”
For instance, record warm ocean temperatures during 2012 prompted lobsters in the Gulf of Maine to migrate shoreward about a month early, making them easier to catch. Lobstermen proceeded to haul in record numbers of the crustaceans, but the overabundance of product on the market tanked the price paid to lobstermen.
“There’s a growing realization among scientists that complex problems like climate change and fisheries require us to work with people from other fields,” says Katherine Mills a co-investigator on this study from UMaine and GMRI.
The team includes climate scientists, oceanographers, fishery scientists and economists from UMaine, GMRI, Stony Brook University, NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center (NWFSC) and NOAA’s National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR).
“The Gulf of Maine is an ideal test site to examine relationships between climate change, oceanography, ecology and economics,” Pershing says. In addition to its economically valuable lobster and groundfish fisheries, the Gulf has strong temperature gradients and has been warming rapidly in recent years.
“Rising temperatures impact spatial and seasonal distributions of many fish and invertebrates,” says Janet Nye, an assistant professor at Stony Brook University. Shifts in the distribution and abundance of species drive changes to their interactions with each other, as well as changes to where, when and how many are caught.
As part of its multidisciplinary approach, the project has a dedicated education component through GMRI’s LabVenture! Program that annually reaches 10,000 Maine fifth- and sixth-grade students. The researchers will work with GMRI’s education specialists to develop a hands-on experience that enables students to explore how computer models help scientists understand complex interactions among species and the environment.
In addition to Pershing, Mills and Nye, the team includes Andrew Thomas, Richard Wahle and Yong Chen from the University of Maine; Jenny Sun, Tom Farmer and Frank Chiang from GMRI; Dan Holland from NWFSC; and Mike Alexander from NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
Opposition to same-sex marriage is greater on Election Day than indicated in pre-election polls, according to new research by a University of Maine political scientist. That’s because people being surveyed tend to say they’ll vote the way they think is socially desirable, regardless of their real position on the issue.
Richard Powell, UMaine associate professor of political science, said polling systematically minimizes resistance to same-sex marriage; opposition to it at the ballot box on Election Day is about 5 percent to 7 percent greater than in pre-election polls.
The 2009 vote in Maine is indicative of this pattern, Powell says. In that year’s final pre-election poll, 40 percent of Maine voters indicated they would vote in favor of Question 1 to restrict marriages to opposite-sex couples. Election Day, Question 1 passed with 53 percent of the vote.
Powell examined the accuracy of polling on same-sex marriage ballot measures relative to polling on other statewide ballot issues in 33 states from 1998 to 2012.
He said social desirability bias on ballot measures such as same-sex marriage is more prevalent in states with larger populations of Republican and highly religious voters.
While social desirability bias has largely disappeared on issues of race and gender, Powell says it likely continues to impact polling on same-sex marriage because societal attitudes with regard to homosexual rights lags behind that of attitudes about race and gender.
Based on prior research, Powell says as a greater number of people accept same-sex marriage, there will be fewer potential polling respondents available to give misleading responses.
“This is a question that will be fascinating to study over time to see if it, indeed, turns out to be the case,” he writes in “Social Desirability Bias in Polling on Same-Sex Marriage Ballot Measures” published in American Politics Research.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
University of Maine marine scientist Rhian Waller has been named a Fellow in an elite international group of adventurers who encourage scientific discovery while exploring land, sea and space.
Founded in 1904, Explorers Club members attempt to attain new heights and depths; they’ve been the first to reach the moon, North Pole, South Pole, the Mount Everest summit and the deepest part of the ocean.
Waller, an associate research professor in UMaine’s School of Marine Sciences, fits right in. In 2013, National Geographic Magazine celebrated her as a 21st-century risk taker who presses the limits in this “New Age of Exploration.”
Based at the Darling Marine Center (DMC) in Walpole, Maine, Waller has pushed the limits of diving during more than 40 expeditions around the planet. In a submersible, she has plunged to a depth of 3,600 meters to examine corals on the New England Seamount chain.
“I feel extremely honored to have been voted into the Explorers Club, and really pleased to have been recognized for the scientific exploration work I’ve been doing across the globe,” Waller says.
“There are so many conservation issues surrounding the deep ocean, I hope I can use this opportunity to spread the word more widely that the deep sea is important to our whole planet, and does need our protection.”
As a Fellow, Waller has access to the Explorer’s Club research collections, including a library and map room, and she’s connected with a global network of expertise, experience, technology, industry and support. The Explorers Club supports exploratory expeditions and provides opportunities for the 3,000 members worldwide to carry an Explorers Club flag on voyages that further the cause of exploration and field science. Since 1918, flags have flown at both the North and South poles and aboard Apollo 11.
The seven founders of the Explorers Club were two polar explorers, a curator of birds and mammals at The American Museum of Natural History, an archaeologist, a war correspondent/writer, a professor of physics and an ethnologist. Today its members — including archaeologists, astronomers, entomologists, mountaineers, zoologists and now a new deep-sea researcher — conduct explorations and research in more than 60 countries around the globe, and beyond.
For her research, Waller routinely scuba dives in temperatures 35 F and colder. She studies how environmental factors such as climate change, fishing and oil exploration affect deep-sea coral ecology and reproduction, as well as what effect that altered life cycle could have on the rest of the marine ecosystem.
Last summer, Waller was part of a research team that discovered two deep-sea coral communities in the western Jordan Basin and Schoodic Ridge regions of the Gulf of Maine.
Last month, Waller returned from an expedition to Chile. She had traveled to Huinay Scientific Field Station near the northern Patagonian fjords to collect final samples from a yearlong deep-sea coral monitoring program. She’s examining how climate change, salmon farms, fishing and oil exploration affect deep-sea coral reproduction, and what effect any altered life cycle could have on the marine ecosystem.
In her Oct. 11 blog on that trip, Waller wrote that corals, which she calls the rainforests of the ocean, “are not just beautiful to look at … they’re also extremely important to the health of our oceans, and ultimately the health of the planet.”
Next year, Waller will utilize a $381,384 National Science Foundation grant to investigate how Antarctic corals, which provide habitat for thousands of connected species, are coping with warming ocean water.
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
La Tercera, a Chilean newspaper, recently reported on coral research by Rhian Waller, an associate research professor in the School of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine. The article, “Corals of cold water: the unknown forest under the Patagonian sea,” focuses on Waller’s findings from a deep-sea coral expedition in Chile, which she blogged about on the National Geographic website.
RTTNews reported on blueberry health benefits research by Dorothy Klimis-Zacas, a clinical nutritionist and professor at the University of Maine, that was recently published in the journal Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. The study found a diet rich in blueberries may improve conditions associated with metabolic syndrome, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
WVII (Channel 7) and the Bangor Daily News reported on research being conducted collaboratively at the University of Maine and Eastern Maine Medical Center on drug-affected babies after Gov. Paul LePage put the spotlight on the growing problem during his radio address. Marie Hayes, a psychology professor at UMaine, and Dr. Mark Brown, chief of pediatrics and director of nurseries at EMMC, spoke to WVII about the problem of substance-exposed newborns in the state and the need for more research.
The National Science Foundation’s website Research.gov published an article on research by a Maine Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (EPSCoR) Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI) team at the University of Maine. The team is developing tools to help Maine communities better understand and prepare for the potential local effects of climate change. NSF is funding the project.
The Associated Press, Renewable Energy News, Bangor Daily News and Mainebiz reported the University of Maine and its partner companies have released additional details about their offshore wind project proposal. Maine Aqua Ventus released information about plans to supply power directly to Monhegan Island. Jeffrey Thaler, assistant university counsel and a visiting professor of energy policy, law and ethics at UMaine, told the AP the project aims to provide power to the island where residents currently have high energy costs due to their reliance on generators. Jake Ward, UMaine’s vice president for innovation and economic development, said the proposal highlights the university and its partner companies’ strong approach that they believe gives them a good shot at winning a $46 million federal energy grant. The Boston Herald, Sun Journal, WLBZ (Channel 2), Tri-City Herald, Miami Herald, Recharge News, Portland Press Herald and Bloomberg Businessweek were among organizations to carry the AP report. The BDN also published an editorial on the project and Before it’s News mentioned the project in the article “Offshore wind experiences its best growth in 2013.”