Archive for the ‘Kennebec County’ Category

Sexual Selection May Result in Bigger-Billed Male Birds, says UMaine Researcher

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

To female coastal plain swamp sparrows, male bill size matters.

When looking for a mate outside of their pair bond, female coastal plain swamp sparrows (Melospiza georgiana nigrescens) choose males with large bills, according to a University of Maine-led study conducted along Delaware Bay.

Small-billed males are more at risk of being cheated on by their mates. Males with larger bills than their avian neighbors, on the other hand, sire a greater percentage of young birds in their territory, says Brian Olsen, assistant professor in UMaine’s School of Biology and Ecology and Climate Change Institute.

Thus, Olsen says, sexual selection may explain why males have larger bills than females along the Delaware coast.

“Conventionally, bird bills have been considered one of the premier examples of how diet shapes morphology: the right tool for the right job,” he says.

For the past 40 years, researchers have explained differences between the shapes of male and female bills by differences in diet. But Olsen and his colleagues say their research suggests that female mating preferences alone could do it.

“It really makes me wonder how much of bill shape, or the shape of any other structure for that matter, is due to mating preferences instead of better survival,” Olsen says.

Olsen and his fellow researchers also found that bill size increases with age. So, by selecting males with larger bills, females are picking a mate that has the right stuff to survive and successfully defend a territory over multiple years.

“In other words,” says Olsen, “the genes of older males have been tested and proven worthy, and females who prefer to mate with the largest-billed males can then pass these good survivor genes on to their offspring.”

Since the difference in large and small bills is only a few millimeters, Olsen says he doesn’t know how female swamp sparrows make the distinction. He suspects song may play a role, since male bill shape can greatly influence singing.

Russell Greenberg of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center at the National Zoological Park; Jeffrey Walters of Virginia Tech’s Department of Biological Sciences; and Robert Fleischer of the Center for Conservation and Evolutionary Genetics at the National Zoological Park also participated in the study.

The team’s research article, “Sexual dimorphism in a feeding apparatus is driven by mate choice and not niche partitioning,” was published in the November 2013 issue of Behavioral Ecology.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Steneck: Understanding Species Interactions Key to Fisheries Management

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

University of Maine marine scientist Bob Steneck participated in a Florida State University-led study that recommends a paradigm shift for fisheries science and management.

The study spearheaded by FSU biology professor Joe Travis advocates that fisheries experts and managers consider how overfishing and environmental changes disrupt species interactions and alter ecosystems, including pushing some ecosystems past their tipping points.

“In order to succeed, fisheries management must focus on species interactions,” says Steneck, a professor based at UMaine’s Darling Marine Center in Walpole.

Historically, Steneck says, fisheries science has focused on population dynamics, sustainable yields and influences of biological and oceanographic processes on fisheries.

“By incorporating a more ecological approach, we argue that managers can better understand the dynamics of a fishery, and which species interactions, if affected, can push the ecosystems that house a fishery past its tipping point,” he says.

The loss of one major species from an ecosystem can have severe and unintended consequences because of the connections between that species and others in the system. These changes often occur rapidly and unexpectedly and are difficult to reverse, say the researchers.

“You don’t realize how interdependent species are until it all unravels,” says study co-author Felicia Coleman, director of Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory.

One case study looks at the collapse of sardine and anchovy stocks — partially as a result of overfishing — in the 1970s in the Northern Benguela ecosystem off Namibia. Subsequently, the far less calorie-rich bearded goby and jellyfish flourished. African penguins and gannets that had preyed on energy-rich sardines and anchovies, have suffered, say the researchers. African penguins and gannets have declined by 77 percent and 94 percent, respectively.

In addition, Cape hake and deep-water hake production plummeted from 725,000 metric tons in 1972 to 110,000 metric tons in 1990, say the researchers, and the population of Cape fur seals has dramatically fluctuated.

In Europe, Steneck points to the Atlantic cod stock’s seeming inability to rebound from overfishing. Currently, the cod’s former prey, a small fish called sprat, has become hyperabundant to the point that it preys on larval cod.

Closer to home, the decimation of cod and other large predatory species also resulted in a proliferation of sea urchins. In the late 1980s, a sea urchin fishery subsequently developed and boomed, but by the mid- to late-1990s, overfishing had decimated that industry.

With sea urchin stocks depleted, the macroalgae eaten by sea urchins increased substantially. This, in turn, created an ideal habitat for crabs, which are major predators of sea urchins.

In the same ecosystem, Steneck says declines in soft-shell clams are due to an explosion of non-native green crabs. “All of these examples result from strong ecological interactions that are not captured in most fisheries management models,” he says.

While it’s easy to write off one such case study, Travis says taken all together, the paper is a compelling case that “tipping points are real, we’ve crossed them in many ecosystems, and we’ll cross more of them unless we can get this problem under control.”

Steneck agrees. “Our paper provides case studies from all over the world illustrating how a chain of events taken with an appreciation for species interactions can contribute to complex problems in fisheries management,” he says.

The study, titled “Integrating the invisible fabric of nature into fisheries management,” was published in the Dec. 23, 2013 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Travis and Coleman say they hope the research accelerates changes in how fisheries scientists approach ecosystem problems and how fisheries managers integrate system issues into their efforts.

The researchers recommend that more effort be devoted to understanding links between species that set up tipping points in ecosystems and they advised managers be cognizant of data that indicates when a system could be approaching its tipping point.

“It’s a lot easier to back up to avoid a tipping point before you get to it than it is to find a way to return once you’ve crossed it,” Travis says.

Fishing experts generally understand how overfishing affects other species and the ecosystem as a whole but it “needs to be a bigger part of the conversation and turned into action,” Coleman says.

Seven other scientists from the University of Connecticut, University of California-Berkeley, University of California-Santa Cruz, University of Chicago, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the Centre de Recherche Halieutique Méditerranéenne et Tropicale in France participated in the study.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Three UMaine professors wrapped up in ‘One Blue Tarp’

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Two University of Maine theater instructors will star in a UMaine English teacher’s award-winning comedic play set to premiere at Penobscot Theatre in Bangor.

Boston-born Travis Baker teaches English courses at the university and earned a master’s in English at UMaine in 2006. He penned “One Blue Tarp” after he heard a comment on a local radio sports talk show about how the Maine Red Claws — the NBA D League team that plays in Portland, Maine — should have been named the Blue Tarps.

Tom Mikotowicz, who teaches directing, playwriting, history and performance theory at UMaine, plays native Mainer Dave Stillman. The independent Stillman likes life as it is in the small coastal town of Clara, and that includes his right to have a junk pile under a blue tarp in his dooryard.

Julie Lisnet, who teaches acting at UMaine, plays Joan, Stillman’s wife who wants him to get rid of the tarp and the junk collection he has amassed so she can have a garden and not have passersby stare at the mess.

“One Blue Tarp” was named Best Play for the state of Maine in the 2013 Clauder New England Playwright Competition. It runs from Jan. 30, 2014 to Feb. 16, 2014 at the theatre on Main Street in Bangor.

Wagner Warns of Spruce Budworm Outbreak in BDN Editorial

Monday, December 30th, 2013

Robert Wagner, a forestry professor at the University of Maine, spoke with the Bangor Daily News for the editorial “A devastating infestation of spruce budworms is coming — and we need to be ready.” Wagner, who is director of the Cooperative Forestry Research Unit that was formed in 1975 during the last spruce budworm outbreak, calls the state’s upcoming infestation a slow-moving hurricane and estimates the pest will start destroying forest stands in northern Maine within the next two to four years. He said UMaine, the Maine Forest Service and landowners with the Maine Forest Products Council are putting together a disaster preparedness plan that will identify the anticipated level of the outbreak and how the state can respond.

UMaine Offshore Wind Projects Make BDN’s Top Business Stories of 2013

Monday, December 30th, 2013

The Bangor Daily News included the University of Maine’s involvement with offshore wind in the article “Tragedy, trade and turbines: The top Maine business stories of 2013.” The article said UMaine made history in June when its prototype VolturnUS became the first floating wind turbine to provide electricity to the power grid. The university also made headlines for the competition between the UMaine-led consortium Maine Aqua Ventus and Norwegian company Statoil for subsidies to help develop an offshore wind farm in the Gulf of Maine.

Media Report on Island Residents’ Concerns Over Proposed Offshore Wind Project

Monday, December 30th, 2013

The Associated Press and Portland Press Herald reported on the concerns of some Monhegan residents over the proposed offshore wind project by Maine Aqua Ventus, which includes the University of Maine and partner companies. Some residents wonder if the 12-megawatt project with two turbines will disrupt the island’s tranquility and hurt tourism. Jake Ward, UMaine’s vice president for innovation and economic development, said the project is a “huge opportunity for an island that has a diminishing year-round population.” Boston.com, NECN, WLBZ (Channel 2), Houston Chronicle, MPBN and Sun Journal carried the AP report.

Maine Edge Announces FIRST Lego League Championship Winners

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

The Maine Edge reported on and listed winners of the 14th annual Maine FIRST Lego League Championship hosted by Maine Robotics and Time Warner Cable in Augusta. The University of Maine College of Engineering and Cooperative Extension 4-H program were also sponsors as part of Time Warner Cable’s Connect a Million Minds initiative to address the nation’s declining proficiency in science, technology, engineering and math.

MPBN, WVII Cover Green Crab Summit

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

The Maine Public Broadcasting Network and WVII (Channel 7) reported on the Maine Green Crab Summit held at the University of Maine. Scientists, state officials and fishermen met to discuss the invasive European green crab and the effects it has on the state’s coastal and marine resources, including shellfish harvesting. Attendees and presenters talked about different approaches for control and future management. Maine Sea Grant, Maine Department of Marine Resources (DMR), Maine Coastal Program and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) organized event.

WVII Reports on UMaine Concert Held in Memory of Newtown Victims

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

WVII (Channel 7) covered a concert at the University of Maine that was held in remembrance of the victims of last year’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. About 70 students, adults and professional musicians from around the state performed during the concert. UMaine student Olivia Bean said it was a great opportunity to be a part of the concert and it “brought the community together by playing music to help heal the Newtown community and even here in Greater Bangor.”

Officer Recognized for Organizing Emergency Drill, BDN Reports

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

The Bangor Daily News reported the Maine National Guard honored Lt. Col. Diane Dunn for her work in organizing a statewide emergency and disaster simulation held in November. The “Vigilant Guard” exercises took place at several locations around the state including the University of Maine and was called the “largest emergency response exercise ever conducted in New England,” according to Maj. Michael Steinbuchel.