From left: Meaghan Lyon ’16, Rachel Karesh ’16, Amber Wolf ’17, Nina Duggan ’18, Audra McTague ’19, Erickson Smith ’15, Bik Wheeler ’09 MPhil ’15, and Ella Samuel ’16.From left: Meaghan Lyon ’16, Rachel Karesh ’16, Amber Wolf ’17, Nina Duggan ’18, Audra McTague ’19, Erickson Smith ’15, Bik Wheeler ’09 MPhil ’15, and Ella Samuel ’16.

The Acadia National Park Science Symposium spotlights research taking place in and beyond the park boundary, highlighting the role of science in planning for the future. The symposium provides a forum to inspire interactions and build collaborations with scientists, students, park staff, and others working in a range of fields.

This year’s speakers included Becky Cole-Will, Chief of Resource Management for Acadia National Park, and Dan Odess, Chief of Science &Research and Assistant Associate Director for Park Cultural Resources for the National Park Service, along with a panel discussion of the recent climate change scenario planning process and preliminary results.

The Down East Research and Education Network’s Convergence Conference brings together conservation professionals from throughout eastern Maine to discuss the importance of science-based conservation as an effective tool for protecting the region’s ecosystems. The theme of this year’s conference was sustainability. 

Both conferences took place at the Schoodic Research Institute Oct. 7 and 8. COA students Meghan Lyon ’16, Rachel Karesh ’16, Amber Wolf ’17, Nina Duggan ’18, Audra McTague ’19, Erickson Smith ’15, Bik Wheeler ’09, and Ella Samuel ’16 traveled to the venue to present their research.

Amber Wolf ’17Amber Wolf ’17Amber Wolf: Is Stress at the Root of Eelgrass Decline in Frenchman Bay?

Eelgrass (Zostera marina), a key component of the marine ecosystem, has been declining in upper Frenchman Bay since 2007, and in 2013 suffered a complete loss both in restored sites and surrounding naturally occurring eelgrass areas. To complement and help guide restoration efforts, we wanted to understand the causes of decline. In this study, we aimed to determine if there was any correlation between plant stress, whether biotic (e.g., disease) or abiotic (e.g., heat stress or general stress), and the recent decline. We collected ten eelgrass samples from each of three sites varying in eelgrass health and bed exposure (depth). Following RNA extraction and reverse transcription, I used real-time quantitative PCR to compare the levels of expression of three stress genes known to modulate the responses of plants to heat, disease, and/or general stress among the three sites. Here, I report normalized gene expression from the three sampled sites and explore possible correlations between biotic and abiotic stress, the health and status of the beds, and local eelgrass decline. 

Eelgrass Research by Amber Wolf ’17Eelgrass Research by Amber Wolf ’17

 

Audra McTague ’19 discusses her research at the Schoodic Institute.Audra McTague ’19 discusses her research at the Schoodic Institute.

 

Herring Gull and Greater Black Backed Gull Chick Growth on Great Duck Island by Audra McTague ’19Herring Gull and Greater Black Backed Gull Chick Growth on Great Duck Island by Audra McTague ’19

 

Erickson Smith ’15Erickson Smith ’15

Erickson Smith: Assessing the Presence of Monarch Butterflies and Milkweed Habitat in Acadia National Park and on MDI

Monarch butterflies have experienced a drastic reduction in parts of their population across North America. As part of a national initiative to respond to threats to pollinators, Smith assessed the presence of monarch butterflies within Acadia National Park and in surrounding communities on Mount Desert Island, which lie in the northeastern part of the monarch’s range.  The abundance and spatial distribution of habitat was documented: 37 milkweed stands were located and measured outside park boundaries, while only 14 stands were located within the park.  Stands ranged in size from 1 plant to thousands of plants.  Surveys were conducted to count eggs, caterpillars, and adults at milkweed stands to begin to accumulate baseline data about the monarch’s presence on MDI, as historical data is non-existent. 

While some have hypothesized habitat loss is the main driver for the monarch’s decline, habitat seemed abundant on MDI and in the surrounding mainland communities. Monarchs were observed in all life stages within and outside of the park, though without historical data, it is difficult to assess if their numbers are down. Bruce Connery, the park’s wildlife biologist, and Smith believe that the conservation of the monarch butterfly on Mount Desert island will require coordination and cooperation between NGO’s, private landowners, and the park. While the park does not have the majority of the island’s milkweed within it, it can still play a vital role in this effort by providing information and advice, serving as a venue for conversation between interested parties, and keeping track of historical data.

Monarch Research by Erickson Smith ’15Monarch Research by Erickson Smith ’15

 

Natural History and Breeding Biology of the Black Guillemot by Meaghan Lyon ’16Natural History and Breeding Biology of the Black Guillemot by Meaghan Lyon ’16

 

Ella Samuel ’16Ella Samuel ’16Ella Samuel: Phenological Responses to Climate Change in Acadia National Park

To take a pulse on the ecological effects of climate change, this research records phenology patterns for thirty-six plant species on the ridges of Cadillac, Pemetic, and Sargent mountains in Acadia National Park. Phenology is a key plant trait included in many climate vulnerability assessments. Warmer spring temperatures tend to lead to earlier leaf-out and flowering events. As a field assistant for Caitlin McDonough Mackenzie, I monitored plant phenology in Acadia from late April through June, building on two years of previous data. Two species of personal interest—Vaccinium angustifolium (Lowbush Blueberry) and Minuartia groenlandica (Mountain Sandwort)— provide a snapshot into the project proceedings and offer insight into local phenology patterns as they relate to fluctuations in temperature. To understand the effect of changing temperatures on diverse plant communities in Acadia, our data collection will continue and future citizen science opportunities will help build networks of important phenology observations.

Phenological Responses to Climate Change Research by Ella Samuel ’16Phenological Responses to Climate Change Research by Ella Samuel ’16

 

An Examination of Potential Predation Threats to the Common Eider at a Mixed Offshore Seabird Colony by Nina Duggan ’18An Examination of Potential Predation Threats to the Common Eider at a Mixed Offshore Seabird Colony by Nina Duggan ’18

 

Bik Wheeler ’09Bik Wheeler ’09

Bik Wheeler: Revisiting MacArthur’s Classic Study of Niche Partitioning of Spruce Wood Warblers

In 1956 and 1957, Robert H. MacArthur studied the ecology of five species of the genus Setophaga (wood warbler), resulting in contributions to the theory of niche partitioning. MacArthur asserted that the five Setophaga are sympatric species that evolved to occupy separate behavioral niches. His observations were conducted in Acadia National Park, Maine, USA.

In the breeding seasons of 2014 and 2015, I repeated MacArthur’s study in the same location, to reassess warbler niche partitioning and observe possible changes over time. To conduct a direct comparison, I have used the same forest structure measurements, and observational methods. In the past 60 years, the forest structure, warbler species assemblage, and taxonomic classification have shifted. Using technological advancements such as video recording of foraging behavior and more precise measurements, I hope to give a more accurate depiction of interspecific comparisons. In addition to a direct comparison with MacArthur’s partitioning framework, I will test novel frameworks to determine if other forest structure variables are more explanatory.

Revisiting MacArthur's Classic Study of Niche Partitioning of Spruce Wood Warblers by Bik Wheeler ’09Revisiting MacArthur's Classic Study of Niche Partitioning of Spruce Wood Warblers by Bik Wheeler ’09