Vertebrate ecologist Brittany Slabach ’09 (center) is collaborating with COA students in studie...Vertebrate ecologist Brittany Slabach ‘09 (center) is collaborating with COA students in studies on how recreational trail use and sub-alpine management affects mountaintop mammal communities in Acadia National Park. Here, Chloe Meyer '25 (right) and Maggie Denison '24 (left) join Slabach on the summit of Sargent Mountain. Credit: B. Slabach

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, it can be easy to forget about the multitude of other creatures that live in our world. In fact, we have plenty of neighbors and acquaintances that live all around us—in the bushes, beneath our feet… and high up over our heads.

Slabach, a Second Century Stewardship fellow, aims to find out more about some of those animals that live above us. She’s working with a cohort of COA scientists to discover the roles that park use and management play in the health of these important mammal communities. 

The research project is made possible through a partnership between the Schoodic Institute, Acadi...The research project is made possible through a partnership between the Schoodic Institute, Acadia National Park, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which has awarded the Second Century Stewardship to 20 people since 2016. Credit: B. Slabach“What we’re interested in Acadia is a similar question that we’ve been investigating in Texas for several years—we’re curious about how disturbance through recreational use and landscape management influences local mammal communities,” Slabach said. “Nobody’s trapped mammals on Acadia’s summits, ever. We have no previous data on small mammals on summits in Acadia. So it was a big question for us.”

The project is taking place over two years, with several sites located on the Schoodic Peninsula and Mount Desert Island. The research on mountaintop mammal communities was actually supposed to be the focus of year two, with year one comprising field research on the Schoodic Peninsula.

However, the timing was quickly flipped around when the team received word that a National Park summit restoration project was slated to begin on MDI.

“They’re doing a soil restoration project on top of Sergeant and Penobscot mountains, and those are two of our study sites that were slated for next year, so we thought it was really important to get data ahead of time, right?” Slabach said. “We wanted to see what was going on before they started restoring the mountaintop, to give us some sort of indication of what was there and then also how that restoration may influence the population, and how the small mammals were going to influence the restoration.”

This change of plans inspired Slabach and her team to start working overtime, she said.

Vertebrate ecologist Brittany Slabach ’09, a lecturer of biology at Trinity University in San A...Vertebrate ecologist Brittany Slabach ‘09, a lecturer of biology at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, is using her 2023 Second Century Stewardship to study mountaintop mammals in Acadia National Park. Credit: C. Schmitt

“It turned into an all-hands-on-deck effort, and the deck just happened to be stacked with COA alums and current students, and it was really cool,” she said. “When we started looking at all the pictures and everybody involved, there was just a full COA effort.”

Involved in the project are Slabach, Acadia National Park wildlife biologist Bik Wheeler ’09, biological science technician Lundy Stowe ’22, geoscientist Ben Capuano ’23, Lucian Vazquez ’25, Maggie Denison ’24, Ellie Jackson ’25, Chloe Meyer ’25, and COA professor John Anderson.

The project is made possible through a partnership between the Schoodic Institute, National Park Service (including Acadia National Park), the National Park Foundation, the David Evans Shaw Family Foundation, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which has awarded the Second Century Stewardship to 20 people since 2016. The goal of the award is to inspire audiences of all ages by inviting visitors and others to view national parks through a science lens while providing authentic learning experiences. 

Follow the project on Instagram at: @littleboxproject.

The goal of the Second Century Stewardship, awarded to 20 people since 2016 by the American Assoc...The goal of the Second Century Stewardship, awarded to 20 people since 2016 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is to inspire audiences of all ages by inviting visitors and others to view national parks through a science lens while providing authentic learning experiences. Credit: C. Schmitt