Concurrent Sessions

COVID-19 Protocols – As the main conference organizer, the Mitchell Center is required to have conference attendees follow University of Maine System COVID-19 protocols. Please go to the COVID-19 page for more information.

Please sign up for our e-newsletter to receive conference information as it becomes available.

Current Session List

A. Vector-borne Disease Research and Implications on Integrated Pest Management Strategies in Maine

Session Chairs:
Andres Urcuqui-Bustamante, School of Forest Resources, University of Maine, Orono, ME
Hillary Peterson, Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Augusta, ME

Traditional management strategies for disease vectors such as mosquitos and ticks often involve monthly scheduled inputs of pesticides. Research points to integrated strategies that can involve cultural control methods to reduce these inputs. This session brings together current leading specialists in vector-borne disease (VBD) studies and their implications for both human health and the environment. The state of Maine has seen an increase of VBD cases over the last 20 years that evidences a strong relationship between environmental and social factors, such as the effects of climate change on patterns of precipitation, snowfall and temperature, the variability in wildlife-host populations, invasive plant species which harbor habitats for vectors, and changes in land uses and forest management practices. Up-to-date research is key to understanding and communicating the challenges researchers and regulators face to minimize human exposure to VBD.

Blacklegged Ticks, Climate, and White-Tailed Deer in Maine

Susan Elias (susan.elias@maine.edu)
Robert Smith (smithr@mmc.org)
Kirk Maasch (kirk.maasch@maine.edu)
Charles Lubelczyk (lubelc@mmc.org)

The pathogens causing Lyme and other diseases in Maine can be transmitted through the bites of infected blacklegged ticks (Ixodes scapularis). Maine is a high Lyme disease incidence state, and has been experiencing warmer and shorter winter seasons. Because we expect both white-tailed deer and climate to influence blacklegged tick densities, we investigated the interacting impacts of deer and seasonal climatology on the statewide distribution of blacklegged ticks. We modeled nymph abundance as additive linear/nonlinear functions of deer abundance, temperature, and humidity. We used tick surveillance data to index nymph abundance, 1990–2013. We used the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s big game wildlife management districts (WMDs) as the spatial unit. Nymphs were correlated with increasing deer densities up to 13 deer/mi2 (5 deer/km2), but beyond this threshold nymphs did not vary with deer density. This corroborated the idea of a saturating relationship between I. scapularis and deer density, meaning that local overabundant deer populations should be lowered to WMD goals. Nymphs also were correlated with warmer winters but only where deer density exceeded ~2 deer/km2 (~6/mi2). Thus, climate change may aid range expansion of ticks as long as there are enough deer blood meals to maintain a tick population. Anticipated increases in I. scapularis in the northern tier could be partially mitigated through deer herd management. We touch on the history of deer herd management for tick control, and Maine’s need for vector control districts as a way to organize around tick control.

Impacts of native and invasive plants on mosquito ecology and management

Allison Gardner
School of Biology and Ecology, University of Maine

Mosquitoes, including vectors of human and wildlife pathogens, interact with terrestrial plants throughout their life cycles. Inputs of leaf detritus into the aquatic habitat provide an energy base for developing larvae, and plants mediate the distribution of adult mosquitoes by influencing microclimate conditions, supplying sugar sources, and altering communities of wildlife blood-meal hosts. This research examines direct and indirect effects of understory shrubs, including both native and invasive species, on the ecology of an important North American vector for West Nile virus (Culex pipiens). We demonstrate that leaf detritus species in the aquatic environment alters two components of mosquito production (i.e., oviposition site selection and adult emergence) via the microbial community that forms as leaves decompose. In particular, we found an invasive plant (Amur honeysuckle, Lonicera maackii) yielded high oviposition and emergence rates; in contrast, we identified a native plant (common blackberry, Rubus allegheniensis) that functions as an ecological trap for Cx. pipiens, attracting gravid females to oviposit yet deleterious to larvae yielding low emergence rates. We then explored two vector management applications of these findings. First, a field experiment demonstrated the viability of exploitation of a naturally-occurring ecological trap (blackberry leaves) and an artificial ecological trap (honeysuckle leaves mixed with Bacillus thuringiensis var. israelensis larvicide) for attract-and-kill mosquito control in storm water environments. A second field experiment showed that eradication of Amur honeysuckle decreases abundance of Culex spp. mosquitoes in forest fragments embedded within a residential neighborhood, most likely via effects on microclimate conditions and the bird host community.

The effects of timber harvesting on tick densities and small mammal foraging behavior and abundance

Stephanie Hurd (student), Jessica Leahy, Laura Kenefic, Allison Gardner
1. University of Maine
2. U.S. Forest Service

Timber harvesting is a property-scale forest management practice that involves the cutting and removal of trees. Our previous work has shown that forest structural characteristics that result from timber harvesting can reduce densities of nymphal blacklegged ticks, Ixodes scapularis, the vector of the Lyme disease bacterium, Borrelia burgdorferi. One potential mechanism driving this relationship may depend on the small mammals (e.g., white-footed mouse, Peromyscus leucopus; eastern chipmunk, Tamias striatus, etc.) that serve as hosts for the blacklegged tick and B. burgdorferi. Timber harvesting modifies wildlife habitat through changes in overstory cover and understory vegetation. This change potentially alters the abundance or behavior of these small mammals directly, or indirectly by changing predator activity and the resulting threat, or perceived threat, of predation. Altered small mammal foraging and/or abundance could affect tick-host encounter rates, thereby affecting small mammals’ tick burdens and, consequently, tick densities in the environment. No study has examined the mechanistic links among forest stand attributes that result from timber harvesting histories, small mammal behavior and population sizes, and blacklegged tick densities. This study uses a combination of techniques (i.e., live trapping, track plates, and foraging trays) that capture different aspects of small mammal population dynamics and behavior to (1) assess small mammal foraging and population sizes in forest stands with varied structural attributes; and (2) to compare the efficacy and correlation between these different sampling techniques to determine their ability to predict tick burdens.

Use of Cervid Serosurveys to Monitor Eastern Equine Encephalitis Virus Activity in Northern New England, United States, 2009-2017

John-Paul Mutebi1, Abigail A. Mathewson2, Susan P. Elias3, Sara Robinson4, Alan C. Graham5, Patti Casey5, Charles B. Lubelczyk 3

1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Fort Collins, CO
2. New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services, Concord, NH
3. Vector-borne Disease Laboratory, Maine Medical Center Research Institute, Scarborough, ME
4. Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Augusta, ME
5. Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets, Montpelier, VT

Vertebrate surveillance for eastern equine encephalitis virus (EEEV) activity usually focuses on three types of vertebrates: horses, passerine birds, and sentinel chicken flocks. However, there is a variety of wild vertebrates that are exposed to EEEV infections and can be used to track EEEV activity. In 2009 we initiated a pilot study in northern New England, United States, to evaluate the effectiveness of using wild cervids (free-ranging white-tailed deer and moose) as spatial sentinels for EEEV activity. In Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont during 2009 – 2017, we collected blood samples from hunter-harvested cervids at tagging stations and obtained harvest location information from hunters. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention processed the samples for EEEV antibodies using plaque reduction neutralization tests (PRNTs). We detected EEEV antibodies in 6% to 17% of cervid samples in the different states and mapped cervid EEEV seropositivity in northern New England. EEEV antibody-positive cervids were the first detections of EEEV activity in the state of Vermont, in northern Maine, and in northern New Hampshire. Our key result was the detection of the antibodies in areas far outside the extent of documented wild bird, mosquito, human case, or veterinary case reports of EEEV activity in Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. These findings showed that cervid (deer and moose) serosurveys can be used to characterize the geographic extent of EEEV activity, especially in areas with low EEEV activity or with little or no EEEV surveillance. Cervid EEEV serosurveys can be a useful tool for mapping EEEV activity in areas of North America in addition to northern New England.

B. USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service Opportunities for Conservation Technical and Financial Assistance

Session Chairs:
Matt Walker, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bangor, ME
Ben Naumann, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Bangor, ME

Are you looking for technical assistance and/or potential funding for your next conservation project? Navigating through the sea of federal funding sources for conservation can be daunting; however, many opportunities for your project are available. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) works closely with private landowners, managers, and partners who are interested in voluntary conservation on private land and beyond. NRCS may provide both technical and financial assistance for soil, water, air, plant, animal, human, and energy resource concerns. NRCS programs focus on addressing resource concerns through a variety of land management, partner, innovation, and easement programs. This session will provide an introduction to NRCS technical and financial assistance and will highlight NRCS project examples to help you formulate your own projects. Time will be provided to answer questions concerning specific conservation goals NRCS can assist with.

C. Rural Health, Wellbeing and Sustainability

Session Chairs:
Vanessa Levesque, Environmental Science and Policy, University of Southern Maine, Portland, ME
Kathleen Bell, School of Economics, University of Maine, Orono, ME
Eileen Johnson, Environmental Studies Program, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, ME

Community resilience can be viewed as the ability of a community to withstand, respond to, and recover from stressors and adverse events. The COVID-19 pandemic presented us with an adverse event, and community responses to and outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic offer many insights about the important interactions between rural health, wellbeing, and sustainability. This session highlights research that explores Maine’s rural community resilience in light of challenges such as COVID-19, municipal government capacity, stressors to tourism, and economic well-being. Presentations also highlight best practices and provide suggestions to help Maine communities strengthen their resilience to challenges.

D. Lessons learned from the China Lake Alewife Restoration Initiative

Session Chairs:
Landis Hudson, Maine Rivers, Yarmouth, ME
Dave Courtemanch, The Nature Conservancy, Brunswick, ME

Over a period of seven years, six barriers were removed from the China Lake Outlet Stream to restore a run of native migratory alewives. The run is estimated to reach nearly one million returning adult alewives. The project has been completed through a combination of dam removals and the installation of technical fishways. Project participants include two towns (Vassalboro and China) and many other partners, including state and federal agencies, community members and nonprofit organizations. The session will focus on sharing the lessons learned in completing this large, complicated project including agency participation, funding, logistics and permitting, partnership building, riparian buffer restoration, dam removal versus fish passage, and community support and outreach.

E. Workshop: Environmental DNA Monitoring for Aquatic Resources Professionals

Session Chairs:
Dr. Michael Kinnison, Maine Center for Genetics in the Environment, Maine-eDNA EPSCoR Program, Environmental DNA CORE Facility, University of Maine, Orono, ME
Dr. Karen James, Maine Center for Genetics in the Environment, Maine-eDNA EPSCoR Program, University of Maine, Orono, ME

The quantification of DNA that organisms shed into their environment, called “environmental DNA” (or “eDNA”), is quickly becoming an important species monitoring technique for natural resource professionals. Many agencies have begun adopting eDNA monitoring to supplement other approaches, and many NGO, industry, and public interest groups have gravitated toward eDNA sampling to increase their monitoring participation. However, while eDNA monitoring brings many benefits, it also brings some unique conceptual and technical considerations that influence the success and interpretation of projects. This 2-hour, introductory eDNA workshop is designed specifically for diverse natural resources professionals (e.g., agency, NGO, industry, public interest group backgrounds) and does NOT require prior genetics training. The goal of the workshop is to equip participants with fundamentals needed to gather eDNA data themselves, or to evaluate eDNA work by others. Session topics will include:

  1. What is eDNA? – sources and fate in nature, techniques for quantification
  2. Sampling eDNA – designing and conducting surveys
  3. Processing eDNA – storage, filtering, working with labs
  4. Understanding eDNA data – common data types, interpretation caveats

We will conclude the workshop with a panel of natural resources professionals who will discuss their own experiences working with eDNA in real-world settings.

F. ‘Waste’ Session Track

F1. Reusables & Returnables: Food Service Containers in Maine

Session Chair: Jared Entwistle, Master’s Student, EES, University of Maine, Orono, ME

The pandemic has highlighted a growing issue in Maine and beyond: the impact of single-use food service containers on our waste stream, our greenhouse gas emissions, and our economies. This session will highlight some of the important work being done by faculty, students, and community partners on reusable and returnable food service containers in Maine. The session will address policy, business models, and stakeholder-engaged research that can bring more sustainable systems into being. Through presentations from a range of stakeholders and researchers, this session will help attendees understand the importance of implementing reusable and returnable systems in Maine, as well as how a variety of actors are already taking action – including some of the barriers and opportunities they are encountering in this work.

F2. Exploring the Value of Reuse in Maine

Session Chair: Brie Berry, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Maine, Orono, ME

Description: Over the past five years a team of researchers at the University of Maine have begun to catalog the diverse forms of value hidden within Maine’s vibrant secondhand markets. This panel brings together community partners and researchers to highlight the economic, social, and environmental value of reuse – and to share with attendees how they can contribute to supporting localized secondhand markets in Maine. Drawing on the deep knowledge of non-profit reuse leaders, municipal officials engaged in promoting reuse, as well as small business owners, this panel will illuminate how a variety of different organizations, municipalities, and businesses are helping to keep items out of landfills and in the hands of people who want and need them.  It will also explore what reuse economies mean to Mainers – and how reuse policy might be developed to support multiple goals, including building social relationships, preventing waste, and contributing to economic development.

F3. Understanding Extended Producer Responsibility in Maine

Session Chair: Erin Victor, Ph.D. Student, Anthropology & Environmental Policy, University of Maine, Orono, ME

In 2021 Maine became the first state in the country (quickly followed by Oregon) to adopt extended producer responsibility legislation. This legislation is meant to hold producers accountable for packaging waste, encouraging the design of more sustainable packaging and reducing the strain on municipalities, which, in Maine, are responsible for waste management administration and costs. This panel will take a close look at the promise and potential of EPR legislation to achieve environmental goals. Drawing on expertise from advocacy organizations and researchers, the panel will help explain what EPR could mean for Maine, and how Maine might lead the country in progressive waste reduction policy.

F4. Resilient Materials Management Systems

Session Chairs:
Cindy Isenhour, Anthropology and Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, Orono, ME
Travis Blackmer, Economics, University of Maine, Orono, ME

Maine’s materials management system has faced countless challenges over the past decade, from infrastructural instability to upheaval in global recycling markets. The COVID-19 pandemic has compounded many of these issues, forcing waste managers to take a close look at their practices and decide what is critical and what is optional. In the face of this uncertainty, this session asks what the characteristics of a resilient materials management system might be. We will explore some challenges and opportunities for fostering resilience in this sector. This session will enable attendees to understand some of the complex challenges materials managers face in the state, as well as a variety of solutions that are being implemented or considered to help prepare Maine’s materials management system for the next big shock. This panel will explore research and practices that are currently working to build more resilient systems, as with emergent efforts to divert food waste from Maine’s landfills and incinerators. For even if we don’t know what that will be, we can rest assured that change is a constant.

G. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination in Maine and mitigation strategies: Where are we today and where do we need to be going?

Session Chairs:
Onur Apul, Civil & Environmental Engineering, UMaine, Orono, ME
Louise Roy, Maine Dept. of Environmental Protection, Augusta, ME
Caroline Noblet, Economics, UMaine, Orono, ME

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination was reported widely throughout Maine and the United States in the last several years. Mitigation strategies are urgently needed to address the technical and social aspects of this environmental catastrophe. Due to PFAS’ environmental mobility, difficulties in detection, biological and physicochemical recalcitrance, and limited social awareness, mitigation strategies require holistic and sustainable approaches at the intersection of technical, environmental, social and economic feasibility. This session aims to present results and perspectives about the current understanding of PFAS contamination and mitigation strategies with an extended focus on detection, fate, and transport, remediation, toxicity, and social awareness.

H. Challenges and Strategies in Transdisciplinary Research: Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice

Session Chairs:
Carly Frank: graduate student; Climate Change Institute, One Health, UMaine, Orono, ME
Megan Leach: graduate student; Wildlife, Fisheries & Conservation Biology, Conservation Leadership, UMaine, Orono, ME
Lucy Martin: graduate student; Ecology & Environmental Sciences, Conservation Leadership, UMaine, Orono, ME
Christina McCosker: graduate student; School of Marine Sciences, One Health, UMaine, Orono, ME
Elizabeth Pellecer Rivera: PhD candidate; Ecology & Environmental Sciences, UMaine, Orono, ME
Megan Schierer: graduate student; Ecology & Environmental Sciences, One Health, UMaine, Orono, ME
Alaina Woods: graduate student; Ecology & Environmental Sciences, One Health, UMaine, Orono, ME

Solutions to wicked problems in Maine and beyond require expertise from a diverse range of disciplines. As our global and local worlds undergo rapid change there is a demand for transdisciplinary approaches to solve complex social-ecological and sustainability issues such as climate change, food insecurity, and public health. Multi-faceted issues like these present unique and contextual problems within communities that cannot be approached by typical disciplinary measures or from a single scope of knowledge. Transdisciplinary research benefits from collaboration between scientists, stakeholders, decision-makers, and community leaders to identify research priorities, develop strategies to address problems, and implement solutions.

While transdisciplinary approaches are necessary for stakeholder and community-driven problem solving, there are challenges and barriers to bridging the gap between theory and practice including management, communication, and logistics. The focus of this session will be on experiences of those engaging in transdisciplinary research and their innovative strategies to navigate challenges associated with this kind of highly collaborative work in Maine. Special consideration will be given to proposals highlighting novel approaches, methods and communication for effective transdisciplinary research in the state. This session seeks to provide participants with foundational knowledge for successful transdisciplinary research and new collaborations fostered within Maine and beyond.

I. Risks and benefits of pest management methods including pesticides, genetic engineering and classical biocontrols

Session Chairs:
Gary Fish, Maine Dept. of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Augusta, ME
Fred Dillion, City of South Portland, South Portland, ME

This session will cover the risks and benefits of pest management methods including diverse technologies such as genetic engineering, pesticides, and classical biocontrols. These technologies are often misconstrued in the popular media and grouped together as providing serious environmental risks without peer-reviewed scientific data to back up the claims. Decisions are sometimes made based on product toxicity without regard to the potential for exposure. The future of sustainable farming, landscaping and forestry, including urban forestry, may hinge on these new technologies. This session will explore whether the potential benefits outweigh the real human and environmental risks as we strive to meet society’s sustainability and water quality needs.

J. Coastal Resilience

Session Chairs:
Parker Gassett, Maine Sea Grant, University of Maine
Esperanza Stancioff, University of Maine Cooperative Extension/Maine Sea Grant

The preparedness of coastal communities in Maine to major weather and climate threats is being tested by increasing physical and economic damages, social justice implications among mitigation and adaptation choices, and interrelated challenges for community wellbeing. This session brings together exemplary projects and processes for community resilience in Maine. Model approaches for community organizing, information sharing, municipal planning processes, solutions for financing, and case studies on implementation guide the conversation of this session toward replicable local efforts. We invite researchers, public officials, community leaders, and representatives from Maine’s Tribal Nations to share their experiences, insight, and achievements for coastal resilience.