Archive for September, 2013

Pools and People

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013


A University of Maine wildlife ecologist will utilize a $1.49 million National Science Foundation grant to improve protection of small natural landscape features that significantly impact the larger ecosystem.

The four-year project, “Of Pools and People,” will inform conservation management of relatively tiny natural resources — such as vernal pools, prairie potholes and desert springs — that maintain biodiversity in urbanizing landscapes, says Aram Calhoun, professor of wetland ecology and director of the Ecology and Environmental Sciences Program.

The collaborative eight-member research team will offer insights to safeguarding these important resources, particularly on private lands. Small natural resources often can be saved while development, forestry and agriculture activities continue, Calhoun says.

Prevailing conservation strategies often do not fully utilize management opportunities, Calhoun says, sometimes because interactions among biophysical and socioeconomic components — the regulator, community and landowner decision-making — are not understood.

This project, funded by the Dynamics of Coupled Natural and Human Systems Competition (CNH) Program of the NSF, began Sept. 1.

UMaine researchers joining Calhoun on the Senator George J. Mitchell Center Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI) project are: Malcolm Hunter Jr., Libra professor of conservation biology; Kathleen Bell, associate professor in the School of Economics; Michael Kinnison, professor of evolutionary applications in the School of Biology and Ecology; Cynthia Loftin, associate professor in the Department of Wildlife Ecology and leader of the U.S. Geological Survey, Maine Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit; and Krista Capps, postdoctoral research fellow in sustainability science. In addition, Dana Marie Bauer, assistant professor in the Department of Earth and Environment at Boston University, and Erik Nelson, assistant professor of economics at Bowdoin College, are participating in the research.

SSI is a partnership between UMaine and other higher education institutions that seeks to produce knowledge and initiate action that addresses human needs and preserves the planet’s life-support systems.

In addition to giving stakeholders efficient and flexible management tools, researchers will share results and mentor a range of students and faculty, including those in rural and Native American schools, and integrate findings into interdisciplinary courses and citizen-science programs.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

It’s Clear: Water Clarity Is Declining.

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013


Water clarity, a strong indicator of water quality, is deteriorating in Maine lakes, according to a University of Maine graduate student’s study.

The decline, says Ian McCullough, may be a trend toward eutrophication — a process in which excess nitrates and phosphates, generally due to fertilizers and sewage, stimulate growth of algae, which depletes oxygen in the water.

Using satellite-based remote sensing, McCullough found a decrease in average statewide lake clarity from a depth of 4.94 meters in 1995 to 4.38 meters in 2010.

Water clarity, he says, ranged from 4 to 6 meters during the time frame, and consistently worsened from 2005 to 2010.

McCullough divided the state, which has more than 5,500 lakes and ponds larger than 10,000 square meters, into three regions: northeastern, south-central and western. He assessed data from 547 lakes for the study.

McCullough found lakes with reduced clarity occurred disproportionately (in 52 of 63 lakes) in larger lakes in the remote northeastern and western regions. Clarity in these two regions decreased from 5.22 meters in 1995 to 4.36 meters and 4.21 meters, respectively, in 2010.

Climate changes that impact algal growth and changes in forest cover due to timber harvesting may have contributed to the disproportionate decline in these regions, he says.

Meanwhile, lake clarity in the south-central lake region remained at 4.50 meters from 1995 to 2010 and lakes with improved clarity occurred most often in this region (in 52 of 72 lakes).

The proportion of eutrophic lakes (those with excessive nutrients and dominated by aquatic plants and algae) increased from 35.3 percent in 1995 to 42.6 percent in 2010. While the proportion of mesotrophic lakes (medium levels of nutrients and a high diversity of plants and animals) was unchanged, the proportion of oligotrophic lakes (lacking in plant nutrients and having an abundance of dissolved oxygen) decreased from 14.8 percent in 1995 to 6.8 percent in 2010.

Taken together, McCullough says these results suggest a general trend toward eutrophication in Maine lakes.

Although the results are potentially discouraging, McCullough says individual property owners and lake associations can employ various mitigation strategies. They include enhancing or restoring shoreline buffers with native vegetation, updating septic systems in lakeshore homes, controlling invasive species and minimizing impervious surfaces in lake watersheds.

In addition, statewide programs such as LakeSmart and the Maine Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program already partner with local lake associations to educate and engage people about protecting and restoring healthy lake ecosystems.

McCullough, who earned his master’s in ecology and environmental science at UMaine, is a graduate student researcher at University of California, Santa Barbara.

His study is titled “Landsat imagery reveals declining clarity of Maine’s lakes during 1995–2010.” Co-authors are Cynthia Loftin, a UMaine associate professor and leader of the U.S. Geological Survey, Maine Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit; and Steven Sader, UMaine professor of forest resources.

The Society for Freshwater Science published the study online in June 2013.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

U.S. Department of Energy Awards $16 Million to 17 Organizations Including UMaine for Projects

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013


The University of Maine is one of 17 recipients to split $16 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to fund projects related to efficiently capturing energy from waves, tides and currents.

The projects are expected to increase the power production and reliability of wave and tidal devices and help collect data on how deployed devices interact with the surrounding environment, according to a Department of Energy press release issued Thursday, Aug. 29.

“Wave and tidal energy represent a large, untapped resource for the United States and responsible development of this clean, renewable energy source is an important part of our all-of-the-above energy strategy,” said Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy David Danielson in the statement.

The UMaine project is one of seven “Environmental Monitoring of Marine and Hydrokinetic Projects” under the funding. The $494,000 project received $394,000 from the Department of Energy to use data on fish interactions with Ocean Renewable Power Company’s TidGen Power System in Cobscook Bay, Maine to predict the probability of fish naturally encountering deployed energy devices.

The project will build on research that began in 2009 that established baseline patterns of fish abundance and distribution at the turbine location, according to the project proposal.

The funding will allow the project to provide post‐deployment data for comparison, improve techniques for distinguishing between fish species using undersea acoustic sensors, and implement a probability‐of‐encounter model. The research will also aid in the assessment and understanding of the effects of marine and hydrokinetic devices on local fish populations, the press release states.

Gayle Zydlewski, associate professor and researcher in the UMaine School of Marine Sciences and member of the Maine Tidal Power Initiative, is the principal investigator of the project which is expected to last two years and include five researchers under the DOE funding.

“This funding will enable our research team to provide quantitative data on fish behavior in tidally dynamic regions and how fish interact with a tidal power device that’s not being collected anywhere else in the U.S. or globally,” Zydlewski says. “In addition, it will allow us to retrospectively analyze data to enhance their utility for natural resource decision makers.”

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747