Archive for July, 2013

Pooling Resources

Monday, July 15th, 2013

salamander

Massachusetts native Kristine Hoffmann feels right at home in her wading boots in vernal pools in Orono, Maine.

As a youngster, she enjoyed exploring a spring wetland close to her Bay State backyard. And these days, vernal pools — forest floor depressions that fill with water in the spring and generally dry out in late spring or early summer — are again an interest for Hoffmann.

The University of Maine doctoral student is studying the breeding ecology, habitat selection and life histories of the blue-spotted salamander (Ambystoma laterale), including the distance they emigrate from vernal pools.

Hoffmann recently followed one salamander 280 meters from a local vernal pool, multiple times the distance she anticipated.

“When I saw this job, it felt like coming home,” Hoffmann says of her dissertation research. “It’s a great opportunity.”

In recent years, vernal pools have become a topic of discussion and concern due to a worldwide decline of amphibians, some of which breed in the vernal pool in which they were born.

In order for blue-spotted salamanders to be conserved, Hoffmann says vernal pools and the adjacent forestland need to be protected. When vernal pools and the critical land around them are destroyed, amphibians are lost, biodiversity decreases and food availability for other species is compromised.

Current Maine regulations state that “the basin depression of ‘significant’ vernal pools must not be disturbed,” says Hoffmann, “and at least 75 percent of the critical terrestrial habitat within 250 feet of the high-water mark must remain intact and forested, with native understory and woody debris.”

Those regulations, though, protect fewer than 25 percent of Maine vernal pools, and Hoffmann says that might not be enough to ensure long-term conservation of other salamanders, as well as wood frogs and fairy shrimp that also breed in vernal pools in the state.

Hoffmann says data from her research may inform proposed legislation about zones of consultation in Maine.

Because vernal pools don’t have inlets or outlets and because they dry up, salamanders are at risk from fewer predators than they would be in ponds and lakes.

But there’s a trade-off of sorts — they’ve had to adapt to breed quickly — they arrive early to the pool and hatch and undergo metamorphosis within weeks. The impetus is strong — they have to lose their gills and grow lungs before the seasonal pool is gone.

After blue-spotted salamanders grow lungs, they spend much of their life underneath leaves in the surrounding moist woodlands in eastern central North America, the Atlantic Provinces and northern New England. The nocturnal amphibians with long tails can grow as long as 5.5 inches.

Seven days a week, Hoffmann treks to several Orono-area vernal pools. She dons a broad hat, blue jeans and long sleeves to ward off mosquitoes — a staple of salamanders’ diet.

In a sun-dappled forest near a pollen-coated vernal pool Hoffmann checks whether the adult salamanders she implanted with radio transmitters have moved.

If they have, she marks the new spots with flags then notes factors including canopy density and soil temperature and moisture level.

Hoffmann implanted the transmitters — which will emit signals for about 45 days — during a short surgery in which they were anesthetized in a UMaine lab.

In mid-June, Hoffmann was awaiting the first of this year’s juvenile salamanders to emerge from the pools.

Much of what she’s already learned from her research has resulted in more queries. For instance, she questions why after the mass spring migration there were 700 female salamanders and just three males in one area pool.

There are now two types of blue-spotted salamanders, Hoffman says — Ambystoma laterale and unisexual salamanders, which are the result of prior hybridizing. Today, the unisex salamander steals sperm from the Ambystoma laterale.

Hoffmann will study both blue-spotted salamanders and the unisex salamanders to see what effects genotype (different genetic compositions), female body size and environmental factors have on egg mass structure and fertility.

She’ll also examine which environmental factors — pond depth, canopy density, distance to roads and presence of other breeders in the pool — impact breeding site selection. And she’ll explore whether juvenile habitat choice differs between the genotypes.

“We keep finding out things. We’ve found salamanders with three genomes or four or five genomes,” she says, wondering aloud what that might mean for the salamanders’ health and life expectancy. “If we [humans] get one extra chromosome, we get Down syndrome.”

UMaine undergraduates Eleanor D’Urso from Branford, Conn., Catherine Herr from Cape May, N.J. and Ian Lookabaugh from Lubec, Maine, are assisting Hoffmann with the research.

D’Urso and Lookabaugh are fifth-year wildlife ecology majors and Herr is a fifth-year student majoring in wildlife ecology and mathematics.

Katherine Sypher, an Orono High School junior is also assisting with the study through the OHS-University of Maine Summer Research Experience Program. The program seeks to increase high school students’ science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills.

Sypher says it’s an ideal summer job — she’s paid to work outside while learning and applying practical knowledge.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Camire Among the First Certified Food Scientists

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Mary Ellen Camire is among the first food scientists nationwide — and the first at UMaine — to be certified by the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT). More than 1,400 food scientists nationwide were in the inaugural class of Certified Food Scientists, a certification program created by IFT that recognizes the applied scientific knowledge and skills of food scientists. The certification examination covers product development, quality assurance and control, food chemistry and analysis, regulatory, food microbiology, food safety, food engineering, sensory evaluation and consumer testing. Camire and the other newly certified food scientists will be recognized this week in Chicago at the annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists. IFT has nearly 18,000 members worldwide working in academic, government agencies and the food industry. Camire will become president-elect of that organization Sept. 1.

On Jordan Pond

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Jordan Pond

A state-of-the-art sensor buoy system has been deployed in Jordan Pond at Acadia National Park to begin a high-tech water quality monitoring program in light of recent concerns about decreasing clarity in what is considered one of the clearest lakes in Maine.

The monitoring program is made possible by a partnership led by Friends of Acadia, Acadia National Park and the University of Maine’s Climate Change Institute. Canon U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging solutions, is the official sponsor for the program. Through Canon’s support, Friends of Acadia was able to purchase a NexSens CB-400 Data Buoy and hire a full-time aquatic scientist, Courtney Wigdahl of Topsham to monitor the study.

Friends of Acadia is a nonprofit organization dedicated to projects that preserve and protect Acadia National Park and Mount Desert Island communities. Wigdahl is an alumna of the University of Maine, where she did her Ph.D. and postdoctoral research with Jasmine Saros, associate director of the Climate Change Institute.

The 187-acre Jordan Pond is 150 feet deep — the deepest and the second largest of the 26 lakes and ponds on the island. Described as one of Acadia’s most pristine lakes with exceptional water quality, Jordan Pond is the water supply for Seal Harbor.

Since 1985, the Park Service has manually monitored water quality on a monthly basis throughout Acadia’s waterways. In Jordan Pond, data analysis has shown that water clarity has been declining since the mid-1990s. In the past four years alone, water clarity has shifted from 14 meters to 12 meters, as measured using a secchi disk.

To determine the potential causes of clarity loss, as well as the effects on the broader ecosystem, the water quality monitoring will be automated with the help of the buoy sited in the deepest part of Jordan Pond. With the latest sensor technology, the buoy will monitor nearly 100 data points every day, including the amount of algae and organic material in the water column, and water pH and temperature. The data will be compiled and transmitted every 15 minutes to a receiving station located at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant.

The buoy, which will be visible approximately 2 feet above the water surface, will be in Jordan Pond for the next four months, and then will be redeployed in the spring.

The automated monitoring will provide a more comprehensive perspective on water conditions, and inform decisions about lake protection measures. Just as important, it will monitor conditions before, during and after major weather events to understand the changes the pond undergoes.

“This is likely not an isolated case. We think it is indicative of what’s happening in many lakes in Maine,” says Saros, who has been studying the lakes in Acadia National Park for the past five years, looking at the effects of and recovery from acid rain, and the effects of climate change. “Many lakes in Maine are brown because of natural organics. Jordan has a low concentration of that, but it may be increasing.

“If the changes in Jordan Pond are largely because of air pollution reduction, it’s important to know that the lake is returning to a previous state and the reduction in clarity is not a concern,” says Saros, who will lead the data analysis. “If it’s more of a sign of changes in climate with the increased frequency and severity of storms, we will be more concerned and will have to consider what we can do to mitigate the effects. For the park and for lakes across Maine, it is an important question.”

By next year, Jordan Pond’s high-resolution sensor data will be available to the public on a website and at an information kiosk at the Jordan Pond House Restaurant. The data also will be entered in the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network (GLEON), which shares and interprets information from around the planet in an effort to understand the role and response of lakes to a changing environment.

Wigdahl will be blogging about her work with the buoy on the Friends of Acadia news site.

A Wall Street Journal article about the Canon U.S.A. sponsorship with Friends of Acadia is online.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745; 207.949.4149