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Archive for the ‘Schoodic Lecture Series’ Category

I ate the last bite of my undercooked Mexican bean pizza and rushed upstairs to brush my teeth and gather my things. Somehow Saturday had passed me by, and in fifteen minutes we had a lecture to attend.

Every second Saturday the Schoodic Education and Resource Center hosts a researcher to talk on scientific subjects of possible interest to the surrounding communities. Arguably, Saturday’s topic was of concern not only to Gouldsboro townees but also to anyone (tourist, economist,  business owner, lobstah lovah) across the state, states, and world.

Global warming remains a controversial topic among many audiences, but it has attracted the special attention of researchers, city planners, and residents in coastal areas, like Downeast Maine, as a valid and persistent issue. Indeed, it’s driving the black-capped chickadees out of York County, sending the ocean’s water levels further onto the mainland, and limiting the successful reproduction of one of Maine’s economic engines–lobsters.

Malcom Burson, climate adaptation program manager, addressed the evening’s audience with a disclaimer: as a public policy person, not a scientist, he was simply there to present facts and map out trends and predictions of what global warming could do to the state of Maine.

Climate change may be less agitative a word than “global warming”, but they are undeniably related. The bottom line is that as greenhouse gases trap the sun’s radiation and warm the globe, the climate is changing across the world. The argument that global warming is unreal because of ice storms or record snowfall is undermined by the increasing amount of data that shows an accelerated rate of sea level and global mean temperature rise.

Phenology is used to describe plant and animal life cycles dependent upon seasonal changes that are directly impacted by climate change. Monitoring blooming dates and the start of the growing season are two simple ways to track the effects of climate change. The easiest way to understand the significance of climate change, Burson emphasized, is to use our senses to observe changes in our immediate environment and everyday lives.

Take breakfast for example. More specifically: pancakes. No, the syrup on pancakes. Mmm. It turns out, climate change is affecting the maple tap-dates in Maine. According to Burson, Maine is tapping for maple syrup one month earlier than it was in 1896. Maine Sugarworks, a family-owned syrup company in western Maine, says that their tapping season has become progressively shorter as the maple belt moves northward towards colder climates.

Maine has three distinct climate zones: the north, the southern interior, and the coast. Burson notes that most of the climate change occurring in Maine is in the northern part–not the coast. Maine’s coastal temperatures have always been a bit different, due to the fluctuations of the currents in the Gulf of Maine. Regardless, if global emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases are not lowered, Burson says that Maine’s mean temperature will be closer to that of Maryland by the end of the century.

Sea level rise and water temperature increase are two impacts of climate change native Mainers are likely to feel or notice. Of concern to naturalists is the likely loss of habitat for the sharp-tailed sparrow, a secretive bird who nests within a meter of the high water mark. Here in Maine, the sparrows are known to breed on the causeway connecting Mount Desert Island (the hub of Acadia National Park) to the mainland of Maine. Needless to say, flooding may also threaten some coastal communities.

Driving along the coast is a cultural experience in itself; lobster buoys hang off the porches of peoples’ homes and stacked lobster cages comprise a reasonable portion of their front yards. Every restaurant has a lobster emblem and its boats can be seen floating out in the harbor collecting a day’s catch. Yes, lobsters are as popular here as guitars are in Nashville. At least before our recent May flood, guitars were never considered an “at risk” commodity, our tourism sector hardly in jeopardy. But if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase, Maine’s single most important fishery could be in danger.  CO2 contributes to acidification of waters, which disrupts lobster larvae’s ability to form shells.

Here in Maine, the transportation sector is mostly responsible for production of greenhouse gases. In return, public infrastructure can be worn away through the increased rainfall received as a result of climate change. Nor’easters, storms that typically occur in winter and drop large amounts of snow on coastal Maine, are becoming more common in spring and rain down in liquid form–weakening the structure and stability of bridges, roads, and culverts.

Climate change, according to widespread global research, is real; what’s debatable to many is what we should do about it. At least for now, ongoing monitoring of the emissions is essential to forming effective solutions and climate action plans that will help preserve Maine’s natural areas and its economy. Proactivity, including developing infrastructure such as sewer systems that hold up to harsher weather, is a way to deal with the changes we are currently experiencing and may continue to experience. No, we don’t know what will happen in 100 years, just like we don’t really know whether tomorrow’s 40% chance of rain will manifest itself. But we have models to aid in predictions, and come tomorrow, wearing a rain jacket is probably smarter than wearing a thin white cotton shirt.

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News from Acadia Partners.

Malcolm C. Burson, Associate Director of Policy Services in the Commissioner’s Office at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, will present the next lecture in the Second Saturday Lecture series on June 12. The lecture begins at 7 pm in the Moore Auditorium on the campus of Schoodic Education and Research Center and is free to the public.

Dr. Burson will highlight the findings and recommendations of a recent report to the Maine Legislature. The report outlines the actions Maine people, communities, businesses, and others should undertake in response to changes in our climate that are already occurring, and that are expected in the future.

The presentation will focus on likely climate change impacts and potential responses, specific to the Acadia region such as sea levels in the Gulf of Maine, coastal storms, impacts to wildlife and habitat, and what local communities can do.

The Second Saturday Lectures are open to the public free of charge and are sponsored by the Schoodic Committee of Friends of Acadia, Acadia National Park, and Acadia Partners for Science and Learning. For more information, please call 288-1339.

For driving directions to SERC and to the Moore Auditorium, see the maps on the “Driving Directions” page on the Acadia Partners website.

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Tuesday evening (August 4), the Schoodic Education and Research Center hosted a presentation and conversation with Dr. Robert Brooks on the research he has conducted in the Schoodic region sponsored by the Frenchman’s Bay Conservancy.  Here is a summary of Dr. Brooks’ lecture, Schoodic to Schoodic Wildlife Corridor Initiative: toward a science-based assessment.

The Frenchman’s Bay Conservancy has partnered with Dr. Robert P. Brooks—Professor of Geology and Ecology—of Pennsylvania State University—and various state and federal agencies to conduct biodiversity and landscape connectivity research in the area from Schoodic Point to Schoodic Mountain (known as the Schoodic to Schoodic, or S2S, area).  The ongoing study will inventory and monitor specific habitats and communities, assess ecological conditions, and provide defensible, scientific information for land management.  Results will ultimately help scientists design and conserve wildlife corridors in the S2S area. (more…)

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Mittelhauser and Windmiller

Mittelhauser and Windmiller

After arriving at the Schoodic Education and Research Center (SERC) campus and making the rounds of introductions, I spent my first evening in Maine seated in the comfortable Moore Auditorium for my first talk of the Schoodic Lecture Series.  Hosted by Acadia National Park, Friends of Acadia, and Acadia Partners for Science and Learning, the lectures are intended to explore research, education, and management issues at the park and topics of community interest.  Saturday’s talk was presented by research biologists Glen Mittelhauser and Bryan Windmiller, recipients of the L.L.Bean Research Acadia Fellowship for their work on “Historical Changes in Freshwater Insect Communities of Acadia National Park”. Despite my limited knowledge of aquatic insects, the format of the talk made new information interesting and digestible and offered plenty of room for questions and discussion.  This kind of event is exactly what helps bring scientists, park staff, and citizens together in a meaningful way.

During 2008, Mittelhauser and Windmiller inventoried select freshwater insect taxa on Mount Desert Island in Acadia National Park as part of a research project designed to help assess the changes in the aquatic insect community since the early twentieth century.  Introducing the concept of inventories Mittelhauser provided an enlightening account of the groundbreaking, historically significant work that William Procter conducted on Mount Desert Island cataloging the area’s insects for almost 30 years.  Procter published seven scientific volumes summarizing his collecting efforts that provided invaluable background for Mittelhauser and Windmiller’s study, directing the selection of specific aquatic insects to be inventoried (whirligig beetles, predaceous diving beetles, burrowing water beetles, backswimmers, giant water bugs, water scorpions, and creeping water bugs) and serving as a database for comparing counts and distribution of the area’s aquatic insects.

View of an array of suction cups on the underside of an aquatic insect collected by Mittelhauser and Windmiller

View of an array of suction cups on the underside of an aquatic insect collected by Mittelhauser and Windmiller

The slideshow presentation incorporated fascinating pictures of some of Procter’s work, as well as numerous images that helped clarify the procedures used in the study and allowed a closer look at the different insects that were collected.  Whirligigs, for example, have especially interesting compound eyes that are divided, giving them a four-eyed appearance. This pecularity allows the beetle to see both above and under the water’s surface simultaneously!  Magnified images of the bottom of male aquatic insects showed the array of suction cups that enables a better grip on the hard, slippery female during reproduction. Procter’s immaculate records also represent a timely look at the park’s ecosystem before the 1947 fire.  Comparing these two inventories is helping to assess the changes to Acadia National Park’s wetland ecosystems over the last 60+ years.

Mittelhauser and Windmiller’s study inventoried pond, lake, marsh, and vernal pool habitats on Mount Desert Island to determine the current distribution, habitat associations and relative abundance of three insect taxa.  Specimens were collected with dip nets and minnow traps.  Glow sticks (especially the yellow and green colored sticks) functioned as great lures in the minnow traps. Procter used only dip nets to dredge the wetlands as he had more time to make a thorough sweep of the wetlands.  This dissimilarity in methodology may account for some of the differences that appear when the two records are compared.  However,  Mittelhauser and Windmiller also categorized their results so that differences contingent on the presence of fish and disturbance by the 1947 fire could be charted.  Of these two conditions, only the presence of fish seemed to have a significant effect on the documented presence of certain aquatic insects.

While exact counts were not recorded, the abundance and distribution of species was categorized using labels according to how “rare” or “common” the insects were.   The research highlighted a handful of species for which the two inventories produced very different labels.  Of the species recorded by Procter, only a few were not discovered during the 2008 inventory, which suggests that the methods used by Mittelhauser and Windmiller were sufficient.  Perhaps more strange is that in some instances, a species collected by Mittelhauser and Windmiller had not been found by Procter.  Because Procter’s research was such an intense, longterm project, it is likely that these species appeared in Mount Desert Island wetlands after the conclusion of his research in the late 1940s.  Although the results of their research shows altered distribution patterns of aquatic insects, Mittelhauser and Windmiller cannot attribute these changes to any one cause (although climate change was noted as an example of a commonly thought of culprit).

Mittelhauser and Windmiller suggest that inventories of aquatic insects in the park should occur every five to ten years, so that changes in the communities can be better monitored.  One way to assist these efforts is to volunteer as a “citizen scientist” during the BioBlitzes hosted by Acadia National Park.  Upcoming events will be based at the park’s Schoodic Education and Research Center.  The August 7-10, 2009 BioBlitz will cover minor orders of insects (insects groups that have only a relatively few number species in Maine) and the September 10-12, 2009 BioBlitz will cover macro-fungi.  If you are interested in participating in one or both of these events, please register today!

Talks in the Schoodic Lecture Series take place the second Saturday of every month.  There is no admission charge and the presentations are always open to the public. Check the Acadia Partners website for  upcoming  topics and presenters.

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