Research Update: Protecting Natural Resources at the Community Scale
SSI researchers at the University of Maine are investigating new ways to help communities balance economic development and natural resource protection using local vernal pool conservation as a model. Led by Aram Calhoun, UMaine professor of wetland ecology, the team has made progress in several areas including:
New guide to help towns identify and map vernal pools. This spring, Calhoun and her research associate Dawn Morgan published The Maine Municipal Guide to Mapping and Conserving Vernal Pool Resources. The guide provides guidance to municipalities wanting to proactively map their vernal pools and covers topics ranging from vernal pool ecology to training citizen scientists in identifying and assessing vernal pools. It is available at http://www.umaine.edu/vernalpools/.
Innovative mechanisms to adapt regulations to local needs. UMaine associate professor of economics Kathleen Bell, PhD candidate Vanessa Levesque, Morgan and Calhoun are working with two Maine towns and state and federal regulatory agencies to create model mechanisms that would relax vernal pool protection in growth zones in exchange for greater protection of pools and associated habitat in rural areas. If successful, this approach could give communities more flexibility in finding ways to balance development and conservation.
Understanding links between land use and amphibian post-breeding habitat. PhD student Britt Cline is working with UMaine wildlife ecology professor Mac Hunter to determine how suburban development, agriculture and forestry affect the dispersal of juvenile wood frogs, which are key to sustaining healthy populations. Findings will help address challenges ranging from seasonal land management practices to improving vernal pool buffers that better connect and protect crucial habitat for pool breeding amphibians.
New insight into wood frog ecology in an unstudied landscape. PhD student Luke Groff is investigating wood frog habitat selection in Maine’s interior mountains. Preliminary results suggest that wood frogs in this wetland-limited and rugged landscape travel greater distances between breeding and non-breeding areas, and also hibernate at greater depths, than their counterparts in southern and downeast Maine. This research will contribute to our ecological understanding of pool-breeding amphibians, and better inform Maine’s vernal pool policy stakeholders.
Over the next year, the team will continue to conduct ecological research on pool breeding amphibians and economic and policy analyses of vernal pool regulations. Their findings will help municipal officials in Maine tailor these regulations to better meet local needs provide a model for other communities seeking solutions to similar sustainability challenges.