Juvenile wood frogs emigrating from their birthplaces in vernal pools into the terrestrial ecosystem may transfer mercury they accumulated during larval development into the food web, according to a team of University of Maine researchers.
The team, led by U.S. Geological Survey and UMaine wildlife ecologist Cynthia Loftin, conducted its study at four short-hydroperiod (likely to dry by mid-June) seasonal woodland pools in Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island, Maine.
The researchers found mercury levels in the 1- to 2-week-old embryos were near or below detectable amounts, indicating that transfer of mercury from mother to eggs was absent or minimal. However, mercury accumulated rapidly in the 6- to 8-week-old tadpoles.
Mercury, a heavy, toxic metal, occurs naturally and is introduced into the environment by metal processing, coal burning and mining. People are exposed to mercury by eating contaminated fish and wildlife. Over time, low-grade mercury exposure in people can impact cognitive thinking and fine motor skills.
While concentrations of total mercury differed among the pools and were greatest in the unburned softwood-dominated setting, the levels increased in all pools throughout the season. The pools dried in June and refilled with September and October rain.
Wood frogs can travel some distance from their natal pools. During summer, fall and winter, they live in wetlands and on land. In the winter, they hibernate underneath leaf litter, woody debris and soil. They return to pools in the spring to mate.
For a better understanding of the transport of this contaminant from seasonal pools into the surrounding environment and potential for uptake into the terrestrial food web, future studies should focus on the ratio of total mercury to methylmercury (produced by burning of fossil fuels) in embryos, tadpoles and juvenile frogs leaving natal ponds, according to the research team, writing in the journal Northeastern Naturalist.
Loftin teamed with Aram Calhoun, professor of wetland ecology; Sarah Nelson, assistant research professor at the Senator George J. Mitchell Center; Adria Elskus, associate professor of biological sciences; and Kevin Simon, assistant professor in the School of Biology and Ecology, to conduct the study.
Image Description: wood frogs
Encouraging people to be engaged in sustainability efforts today that will make a difference tomorrow begins with a look back, says a team of University of Maine resource economists. Reflecting on societal decisions that have come to bear and learning from those aspects that we regret, or for which we are grateful or indifferent could lead to the ultimate motivating question: What actions will the future regret and what will it be thankful for?
Retrospective thinking — learning to evaluate reactions to the legacy we leave — is a means of raising awareness of the potential implications of current actions on the future, according to UMaine School of Economics researchers Mark Anderson, Mario Teisl and Caroline Noblet, writing in the journal Ecological Economics.
It is broadly understood that successful sustainability awareness and action require intergenerational equity and stakeholder engagement. It also is generally argued that we cannot presume to know future preferences — both individual and collective — that change over time.
For a community to engage the future as stakeholders in sustainability, the researchers propose four steps, which will be tested in a survey this spring.
“Reflecting on what about previous decisions contributed to or detracted from sustainability is a concrete exercise in intergenerational thinking,” according to the economists, whose research is supported by Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative, a program of UMaine’s Senator George J. Mitchell Center.
Image Description: Sustainability
Environmental attorney says regulatory reform needed in the quest for renewable energy alternatives
Amid the economic and environmental realities of fossil fuel dependence in the United States, regulatory processes need immediate reform to allow renewable energy initiatives such as offshore wind to provide alternatives, according to the University of Maine’s first School of Economics Visiting Professor of Energy Law and Policy.
Indeed, argues Jeffrey Thaler, a nationally known environmental attorney, writing in the current edition of the journal Environmental Law, existing environmental laws and regulations actually tend to support increasing greenhouse gas emissions.
“We have little time left to create a practical path to achieving an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050” (the deadline set by the National Research Council and other agencies to begin to stabilize atmospheric carbon concentrations), Thaler writes.
Failing to reduce fossil fuel reliance, he says, will result in average global temperatures rising more than the internationally agreed targeted ceiling of 2 degrees C.
In his article, “Fiddling as the World Floods and Burns: How Climate Change Urgently Requires a Paradigm Shift in the Permitting of Renewable Energy Projects,” Thaler for the first time integrates the ongoing and predicted effects of climate change — increased weather extremes, glacial melting, sea temperatures and drought conditions — with a “detailed roadmap” for reforming environmental processes used in reviewing proposed renewable energy projects.
Using offshore wind power as a case study, Thaler examines the obstacles confronting a potential developer and showed that in an increasingly carbon-constrained world, existing environmental laws and regulatory processes no longer achieve the long-term goal of ecosystem conservation.
“The existing regulatory process should be quickly reformed so that offshore wind and other clean, renewable energy sources can help us escape the escalating consequences of our carbon-intensive economic system,” writes Thaler.
Thaler traces the “byzantine labyrinth of laws and regulations” to the 1970s when “some of the nation’s fundamental environmental laws were enacted — before we were aware of climate change threats — so as to slow down the review of proposed projects by requiring more studies of potential project impacts before approval.”
Today, the outdated and often “self-defeating maze” of regulatory requirements poses significant barriers to domestic and international interest of increasing viable carbon emission-free renewable energy sources to decrease use of fossil fuel energy, Thaler says.
Regulation of renewable energy initiatives remains “unduly burdensome, slow and expensive,” and results in a chilling effect on investment and substantial growth in renewable energy initiatives.
That’s particularly unfortunate for a renewable energy initiative such as offshore wind projects, Thaler says, which “have the potential to generate large quantities of pollutant-free electricity near many of the world’s major population centers, and thus to help reduce the ongoing and projected economic, health, and environmental damages from climate change.”
Thaler’s article provides perspective on the primary federal permitting and licensing that typically affects offshore wind development: the Energy Policy Act; regulations of the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement; the National Environmental Policy Act; Endangered Species Act; Marine Mammal Protection Act; and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.
For offshore wind developers, the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is “the most onerous statute,” Thaler says, because its broad scope has the potential to spark litigation. The lengthy NEPA process requires those not exempted to conduct an environmental assessment, which usually requires a year or more to complete.
Thaler calls for a paradigm shift in order to create new, targeted policy efforts to accelerate the implementation of clean, renewable energy sources. Such reform in licensing and permitting would make it possible for the U.S. to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent in 2050 by increasing electricity production from renewable sources from the current 13 percent to 80 percent, he says.
According to Thaler, who has been involved in energy and environmental policy, law and ethics for almost 30 years, concrete steps to streamline regulatory and permitting processes and requirements to benefit renewable energy project would include prioritizing the regulatory review of renewable energy projects in new and existing laws; establishing expedited timelines for agency reviews and decisions; and amending the National Environmental Policy Act to expand the types of projects excluded — especially small-scale pilots — and to require that the “hidden” costs of energy from fossil fuel be taken into account.
“We must first understand where our carbon-driven energy and electricity technologies are taking us, and learn from the experiences and lessons climate change scientists are trying to teach us, because we are on the verge of losing — for the next thousand or more years — the environmental and economic quality of life that we inherited,” Thaler concludes.
“Second, we must understand, in an increasingly carbon-constrained world, how our existing environmental laws and regulatory processes no longer achieve their underlying goals of long-term ecosystem conservation,” he says. Third, we must “significantly revamp the legal process in order to greatly accelerate the development of renewable energy projects like offshore wind power.”
Image Description: Renewable Energy
Two University of Maine professors have been elected as Fellows to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for their contributions to science and technology.
Joyce Longcore, associate research professor in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology, and Susan Brawley, professor of plant biology in the School of Marine Sciences and cooperating professor of biological sciences, will be recognized at the AAAS Annual Meeting in February in Boston.
Longcore, Brawley and the other 700 recently elected Fellows will be presented with a certificate and a blue and gold rosette to honor their accomplishments.
Longcore was elevated to the rank of Fellow “for distinguished contributions to mycology/microbiology on aquatic fungi (chytrids), developing extensive collections and isolating and describing Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), the cause of global amphibian declines,” according to AAAS.
She is a leading researcher on chytrid fungi, including a fungus believed to be responsible for the worldwide decimation of frogs. In the last 30 years, more than 100 amphibian species have become extinct.
Longcore isolated a pure culture of Bd in 1997 after a die-off of exotic frogs in captivity at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C. She and her Smithsonian colleagues described it as a new genus and species, and she and collaborators have studied populations of it throughout the natural world.
Longcore says she is honored to bring attention to the university for her work with chytrid fungi.
Brawley was elevated to the rank of Fellow “for innovative and interdisciplinary approaches in elucidating critical factors in rocky seaweed distribution, and for inspiring and training students at all levels,” according to AAAS.
She is an expert on marine algae and algal reproduction. Brawley and her students focus on adaptations that allow algae to reproduce successfully under natural stresses in the intertidal zone, particularly in rockweeds and red algae. She is also working to foster integrated aquaculture with sea vegetables in Maine, and to increase appreciation for their nutritional and culinary benefits.
Brawley is a former editor of the Journal of Phycology and former president of the Phycological Society of America. She led a National Science Foundation project from UMaine that won a New England Board of Higher Education’s Regional Excellence Award for effective science outreach in Maine schools.
She is currently on sabbatical in California.
“I am delighted that Dr. Susan Brawley and Dr. Joyce Longcore were named AAAS Fellows,” says Edward Ashworth, dean of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture, and director of the Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station.
“Being an AAAS Fellow is a distinct honor and certainly a well-deserved recognition for two outstanding scientists who have contributed much to their fields of study. I am very proud of these accomplished faculty members and their association with our college and UMaine.”
Four other UMaine faculty members also are AAAS Fellows: Edward Grew, Irving Kornfield, Paul Mayewski and Malcolm Shick. The late Bruce Sidell was also a Fellow.
Grew is a research professor of geological sciences in UMaine’s School of Earth and Climate Sciences; Kornfield is a professor in the School of Marine Sciences; Mayewski is director and distinguished professor in UMaine’s Climate Change Institute, professor of Earth sciences, and a cooperating professor in the School of Marine Sciences and School of Policy and International Affairs; and Shick is a professor of oceanography and zoology, cooperating professor of biological sciences, and associate director of the School of Marine Sciences.
Sidell, founding director of the university’s School of Marine Sciences, died in 2011.
Founded in 1848, AAAS has 120,000 individual and institution members. Fellows are nominated by their peers and chosen by the AAAS Council. The mission of the international nonprofit is “to advance science, engineering, and innovation throughout the world for the benefit of all people.”
Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777
Channel 7 (WVII) interviewed University of Maine Cooperative Extension veterinarian Anne Lichtenwalner and recent UMaine veterinary sciences graduate and research assistant Darryl Ann Girardin for story broadcast in the 6 p.m. news on Nov. 9 about a two-year research project helping the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife determine how prevalent a possible new parasite, lungworm, is in moose in Maine. Girardin and Lichtenwalner began analyzing lungs from hunted moose in northern Maine last fall at the UMaine Animal Health Laboratory to genetically identify lungworms in moose. They are exploring the possibility that a lungworm normally found in deer and sometimes livestock can migrate to new host species, which in this case is moose.
Contact: George Manlove, 207.581.3756
Rhian Waller, a deep-sea and polar ecologist at the University of Maine who studies deep-sea corals, was featured in a video on the website of the National Geographic Society, which helped fund Waller’s recent research trip to Chile. Waller discussed the phenomenon of deep-water emergence, or areas where animals normally found at deep-sea depths are living in much more shallow levels than their usual distribution, allowing scientists to study the animals with more ease. Due to this phenomenon, Waller said in the video, she was recently able to collect during a dive in Chile a trove of coral samples. Waller also has funding from the National Science Foundation and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Contact: Jessica Bloch, (207) 581-3777
Malcolm Hunter, University of Maine professor of wildlife ecology, participated in a Maine Public Broadcasting Company discussion with host Keith Shortall and Andrew Whitman of the Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences about clues found in Maine’s forests and ocean indicating nature’s ways of accommodating changing climate. Some species of plants and animals move or disappear, while others move into areas previously not environmentally suitable for them, Hunter said.
Contact: George Manlove, (207) 581-3756
Adrienne Leppold, a University of Maine Ph.D. candidate in the School of Biology and Ecology, has been awarded a Robert & Patricia Switzer Foundation fellowship for her work studying songbird migration in the Gulf of Maine.
Leppold works with UMaine bird biologist Rebecca Holberton, who leads the Northeast Regional Migration Monitoring Network.
More information about Leppold’s contributions to Holberton’s research is available in a Winter 2010 UMaine Today story.
The fellowship provides a 1-year, $15,000 cash award for graduate study as well as networking and leadership support. It is open to graduate students in New England and California. Fellowship applicants are evaluated based on their commitment to environmental problem-solving and their potential for creating positive environmental impact.
Contact: Jessica Bloch, (207) 581-3777
University of Maine researchers’ work studying lamprey eel spawning was cited in a Bangor Daily News blog about Atlantic salmon by outdoors writer John Holyoke. Holyoke wrote that UMaine researchers informed him that lamprey spawning in tributaries of the Penobscot River could benefit spawning salmon, since lampreys clear silt during their nesting process, which could create streambed spawning areas suitable for salmon.
David Hart, director of the Senator George J. Mitchell Center at the University of Maine and research leader for the UMaine-based Sustainability Solutions Initiative (SSI), was in Washington, D.C., recently serving as a panelist at the prestigious National Academies Symposium “Science, Innovation, and Partnerships for Sustainability Solutions.” Hart, a professor of in the School of Biology and Ecology, was to discuss SSI as part of a panel discussion “Science for Sustainability: Case Studies of National and International Research.” The symposium’s objective is to showcase federal investments and institutional structures fostering sustainability and identify opportunities to help promote practices to lead communities toward sustainability. SSI is a partnership among UMaine, University of Southern Maine and other institutions to connect knowledge with action to promote strong economies, vibrant communities and healthy ecosystems.
Contact: George Manlove, (207) 581-3756