Archive for the ‘News Releases’ Category

Mitchell Student Receives Prestigious Fellowship

Friday, July 31st, 2015

Citing his innovative work on sustainable fisheries management at the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, Joshua Stoll, a graduate student in the School of Marine Sciences, has been awarded a prestigious yearlong fellowship from the Robert and Patricia Switzer Foundation. Read full release.

Uncovering Peru’s History

Friday, July 31st, 2015
Ana Cecillia Mauricio

Ana Cecillia Mauricio

In the lower Chao Valley on the north coast of Peru, University of Maine graduate student Ana Cecilia Mauricio is uncovering history.

Mauricio defended her thesis this past May and is expected to graduate from the University of Maine with her Ph.D. in geoarcheology in August 2015. Her research focused on an archaeological preceramic period site called Los Morteros, located in Pampa de las Salinas — an area nestled between iconic Andean foothills to the east and south, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Chao River to the north.

Geoarchaeology is a multidisciplinary approach that combines techniques and subject matter from a variety of Earth science fields to interpret archeological findings.

The site was originally thought to be a natural feature, resembling a dune common to the Peruvian terrain. At the start of her research project, Mauricio aimed to uncover what was once under the sand cover of the mound, and to understand how humans utilized the area.

Her research showed that the site holds one of the oldest manifestations of monumental buildings in the central Andes.

The site — 200 by 200 meters, with its highest point being 15 meters high — contains structures built with mud bricks, scientifically referred to as adobes. The use of adobes is an ancient architectural tradition found in the Andes.

The adobes Mauricio discovered in Los Morteros are the oldest reported mud bricks in the central Andes, making the site and region a potential origin for the use of such materials.

Growing up in Chimbote, Peru, Mauricio was inspired to be an archaeologist by the rich and ancient history of her homeland. She received her undergraduate degree in archaeology at Peru’s National University of Trujillo before arriving at UMaine in 2009.

“I have always worked in Peru, mostly on the central and north coast. It is a region where you can find all periods of prehistory and makes it possible to investigate all sorts of topics. The weather is perfect and the food is wonderful,” Mauricio said.

When she was looking into graduate programs, Mauricio was drawn to UMaine for the interdisciplinary opportunities. While in Orono, she enjoyed going to the gym, biking around campus and the beauty that came with the changing of the leaves.

“I chose this university because I wanted to develop environmental approaches in Peruvian archaeology,” she said. “I decided on the interdisciplinary master’s program in the Climate Change Institute because you learn about the climate and environment from different perspectives.”

She came to UMaine on a Fulbright and subsequently received the Waitt Grant of the National Geographic Society, and the Beca Andina de Investigacion from the French Institute for Andean Studies.

Among other accomplishments, she published her first book in June, which described a previous archaeological research project carried out in the Lima region. She hopes to have a second book published in September.

Mauricio and her team found the first phase of human occupation in Los Morteros was in the center and lowest part of the mound, where they discovered stone hearths containing small fish bones, charcoal and scallop shells. The calibrated dates for this occupation are from 5700 to 5400 BP.

The second phase of occupation was found at the northwest sector of the mound, where researchers uncovered a large room made of adobes with plastered walls, clay floors and internal architectural features.

The third phase of the occupation — and most recorded — was located near the top of the mound. The researchers discovered the remains of stone architecture, including a large room, a stone platform, stone hearths and clay floors.

A particular feature of this architecture is the presence of standing stone, which is a characteristic element of late preceramic sites. The feature is locally called huanca a quechua, a word from the ancient language of the the Andes.

Mauricio estimated the age of the mound to be at least 7,000 years BP. She used the rate of sand accumulation, which was 10 meters to 12 meters, between the level of stone hearth and the base of the mound to calculate the amount of time passed.

She is currently back in Peru and will soon be working as the research director for the archaeological site of Chan Chan — a UNESCO world heritage site — sponsored by the Peruvian government. She plans on continuing her research at Los Morteros.

Mauricio’s adviser while at UMaine was Daniel Sandweiss, a leader in Andean archaeology and environmental archaeology. Sandweiss is a professor in the Climate Change Institute and the Department of Anthropology, as well as cooperating professor in the School of Earth and Climate Sciences and the School of Policy and International Affairs.

Mauricio was a master’s student when she first became involved with the site at Morteros in 2010. That year, she helped a team of UMaine researchers, led by Sandweiss, complete a georadar survey of the site — a continuation of preliminary georadar work done in 2006. She then decided to focus her dissertation on what was found.

Among the survey team members was Alice Kelley, an assistant professor in the Climate Change Institute, who became one of Mauricio’s primary mentors throughout her research project and served on her dissertation committee.

“It’s very exciting to contribute to building the history of my country with my research,” Mauricio said.  “I also like very much the fact that archaeology is a discipline where you have to learn about other scientific fields and work in interdisciplinary environments.”

Contact: Amanda Clark, 207.581.3721

Rising Waters

Monday, July 27th, 2015

The confluence of storm surges and heavy precipitation can bring dangerous flooding to low-lying coastal regions, including major metropolitan areas. A new study of the United States coastline by an U.S.-German team of researchers has found the risk of such flooding is higher on the Atlantic coast than the Pacific, and the number of these compound events has increased significantly in many major cities in the past century.

The research team was led by Thomas Wahl, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of South Florida and University of Siegen, Germany, and involved four other researchers, including Shaleen Jain, a University of Maine associate professor of civil engineering. Their findings were published online July 27 in the journal Nature Climate Change.

“The 2013 Infrastructure Report Card issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers assigned the following grades: levees (D-), ports (C), wastewater (D), roads (D). With this daunting perspective in mind, we sought to quantify the frequency of occurrence of compound flood events, as gleaned from the historical record. We were seeking to learn the spatial patterns of the risk of compound flooding, as well as their variability over the past century,” says Jain.

Indeed, similar concerns were raised last week by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO). In a July 22, 2015 report, “Efforts to Assess the Impact of Extreme Weather Events,” GAO reviewed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers efforts to integrate changing risk from weather extremes into planning and operations of water resources infrastructure projects. The report concludes, “As the frequency and intensity of some extreme weather events are increasing, without performing systematic, national risk assessments on other types of infrastructure, such as hurricane barriers and floodwalls, the Corps will continue to take a piecemeal approach to assessing risk on such infrastructure.”

The researchers determined that compound events are linked to weather patterns that favor storm surges and heavy rain and snow. For instance, the research team found that storm surges hitting New York City are accompanied by heavy precipitation when a high-pressure system stretches from Newfoundland south over the North Atlantic, where moist air is transported into the low-pressure system.

New York is just one of the major coastal cities with populations over 1 million people. In 2010, 39 percent of the U.S. population lived in coastal communities — a number that is expected to continue to increase in the next five years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in its “State of the Coast” report.

Knowing the probability of concurrent storm surges and heavy precipitation could reduce high-impact risks, providing relevant information for design of infrastructure, and careful consideration of structural (levees, barriers, etc.) and non-structural (forecasts, early warning systems and natural barriers) measures to mitigate impacts.

The researchers used hourly storm surge data from 30 tide gauges along the U.S. coastline, and daily precipitation averages from nearby NOAA National Climatic Data Center stations. Complex integrated modeling that includes ocean-atmospheric processes as storm surge, rainfall and river discharge will be needed to understand the detailed nature of local impacts, and possible linkages to climatic phenomena.

A news release about the Nature paper is online.

Contact: Margaret Nagle, 207.581.3745

At the helm

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

A leading conservation scientist has been hired to lead the University of Maine Darling Marine Center, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2015.

Heather Leslie begins her tenure as director of UMaine’s coastal marine laboratory in Walpole on Aug. 1.

Leslie comes to the center from Brown University, where she was the Peggy and Henry D. Sharpe Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology.

Leslie, originally from Plymouth, Massachusetts, will be the fourth director of the Darling Marine Center. Professor Mary Jane Perry has served as interim director since Kevin Eckelbarger stepped away in 2013 after 23 years at helm.

“My goals as director are to make sure that the stories of our scientists’ and students’ amazing discoveries reach a broader audience, and to support and grow the excellent research and education activities underway at the center. I want every citizen in Maine to know about the great work of UMaine marine scientists, and the impacts our scientists and students are having on coastal economies and ecosystem health,” Leslie said.

Leslie was hired to provide innovative leadership; develop new research, educational and outreach programs for the center; and to work collaboratively to further goals of UMaine.

Leslie, who in 1998 was public relations and campus coordinator at the Darling Marine Center, has expertise in marine ecology, coupled human-natural systems, conservation planning and assessment, and translation of knowledge for policy and practice.

From 2007–15, she was a faculty member at Brown. Research in her lab focuses on the connections among people and coastal marine ecosystems. As marine conservation scientists, she and her students use a range of approaches from the ecological and social sciences to investigate how diverse factors, including climate variability and changes in regulatory regimes, influence ecosystem dynamics, and in turn, social interactions. Her ultimate aim is to provide scientific knowledge and tools that can help inform marine management that benefits both nature and people.

Her current research is focused on Mexico’s Baja peninsula, where she is investigating how environmental and economic change shapes the resilience and outcomes of both the ecological and human dimensions of coastal marine fisheries.

Before joining the Brown faculty, Leslie was a research fellow at Princeton University. Her work has appeared in leading scientific journals, including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and has been reported on in The New York Times.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1996 from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in zoology in 2004 from Oregon State University.

“Heather Leslie is a pioneering researcher in marine conservation and management, and is an excellent choice to direct the internationally recognized Darling Marine Center,” says UMaine President Susan J. Hunter.

“She will provide exceptional leadership at the center where, for half a century, UMaine scientists and educators have developed solutions and advanced knowledge that benefits fisheries stakeholders, marine industries and coastal communities in the Gulf of Maine and beyond.”

The Darling Center began in 1965 when Ira C. Darling donated his 127-acre property on the Damariscotta River to UMaine to develop an oceanography program. The center — now a destination for UMaine marine researchers and students, scientists from around the world and area schoolchildren — is celebrating its 50th anniversary with talks and walking tours this summer and an open house Aug. 8.

A full question and answer profile of Leslie is online.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Finding WaYS

Tuesday, July 14th, 2015

Camp merges environmental science, traditional Native culture

Weaving baskets while learning about brown ash identification and habitat is one of the hands-on projects at the Wabanaki Youth Science Program (WaYS) wskitkamikww, or Earth, summer camp June 22-26, at Cobscook Community Learning Center in Trescott.

At the third annual WaYS summer camp, Native American youth in grades 9-12 also will use compasses and forest tools, learn about medicinal and edible saltwater plants, tidal ecology and climate change issues as they relate to fish.

WaYS, a long-term, multi-pronged program coordinated by the Wabanaki Center at the University of Maine, integrates environmental science and traditional Native culture.

“It’s great fun. It’s intense,” says Wabanaki Center program manager tish carr, who earned a Master of Forestry degree at UMaine.

WaYs, says carr, seeks to connect the next generation of Native youth with their cultural heritage and legacy of environmental management and stewardship.

In addition to summer camps, seasonal mini-camps are open to junior and senior high school-age students. Each mini-camp focuses on one activity; topics have included shelter building, maple tree tapping, snowshoeing and fishing.

Internships also are available for Native high school-age boys and girls to work with area natural resource experts, including those from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), as well as cultural resource professionals.

And, Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) programs are offered to Native students year-round to continue the long-term connection.

The various approaches and offerings are intended to develop a model education program that promotes Native American persistence and participation in sciences from junior high through college and when choosing a career.

When Natalie Michelle was an EPSCoR graduate student in 2012, she had the concept for an Native American Earth Camp in Maine that combined complementary aspects of science and TEK, as a regional follow-up to the successful Native American Earth Camp coordinated by Professor Robin Kimmerer at State University of New York College of Environmental Science.

Michelle now is a New England Sustainability Consortium-Maine’s Sustainability Solutions Initiative (NEST-SSI) research assistant with the I.Ph.D. Program in Ethnobotany and Adaptive Practices in Climate Change.

The WaYS program also benefited from the input of John Banks, director of the Department of Natural Resources for Penobscot Nation; Darren Ranco, UMaine associate professor of anthropology and chair of Native American Programs; and members from each of Maine’s Wabanaki Tribal Nations.

For three days at summer camp, water will be the broad topic for activities for the 25 participants. One day will be devoted to wildlife topics and another day will be dedicated to forestry. Forestry activities, says carr, will utilize compasses and GPS units and include data collection, tree identification and possibly “forest forensics.”

Food at camp will be Native-based. “We’ll concentrate on a healthy lifestyle and talk about where food comes from,” says carr, adding that as many as four interns will assist educators during the week.

Barry Dana, WaYs cultural knowledge keeper, a Penobscot community elder and former tribal chief, teams with carr, a liaison with other natural resource professionals, to make the program a success.

The camp and WaYs are supported by National Science Foundation awards to Maine EPSCoR at the University of Maine.

In related news, the Penobscot Nation, with support from the Wabanaki Center and the USFS, recently received a grant totaling nearly $46,000 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for a Native habitat restoration project in Penobscot Experimental Forest in Bradley, Maine.

For 18 months, Wabanaki students will work hand-in-hand with members of the U.S. Forest Service, other scientists and cultural knowledge keepers collecting and analyzing data on invasives, including Asiatic bittersweet and Norway maples.

The 3,900-acre forest is a site for U.S. Forest Service research; it’s one of 80 experimental forests in the U.S. and the only one in the transitional zone between the Eastern Broadleaf and boreal forests.

The grant, says carr, will help develop future Native environmental leaders by providing participants with the ability to participate in cutting-edge research and learn from various professional and cultural mentors.

This story has been edited to reflect Natalie Michelle’s contributions to the Wabanaki Youth Science Program (WaYS) Earth Camp.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

DMC Scientists Discover Ocean Chloride Buried in Sediment

Friday, July 10th, 2015

University of Maine marine scientists are part of a team that discovered chloride — the most common dissolved substance in seawater — can leave the ocean by sticking to organic particles that settle out of surface water and become buried in marine sediment.

The discovery helps explain the fate of chloride in the ocean over long time periods, including ocean salt levels throughout geological history, says Lawrence Mayer and Kathleen Thornton, researchers based at the UMaine Darling Marine Center in Walpole.

Chloride is half of the power couple called sodium chloride, or table salt, says Mayer. Chloride affects ocean salinity, and thereby seawater density and ocean circulation.

Until now, scientists thought chloride only left the ocean when seawater evaporated, leaving behind salt deposits. Such ancient deposits provide salt used to flavor food and melt ice on roads.

But using high-energy X-rays produced by a particle accelerator at Brookhaven National Laboratory, the research team demonstrated that chloride bonds to carbon in marine organic matter.

Researchers found high organochlorine concentrations in natural organic matter settled into sediment traps between 800 meters (2,624 feet) and 3,200 meters (10,498 feet) deep in the Arabian Sea.

Alessandra Leri from Marymount Manhattan College led the team, which included other scientists from Marymount Manhattan College and Stony Brook University. The team showed that single-celled algae can make organic matter containing organochlorines.

This chemical reaction can occur without phytoplankton, as well, Mayer says, under conditions similar to bleaching. Sunlight promotes the reaction so organochlorines likely form at the sunlit top of the ocean.

The team concluded that transformations of marine chloride to nonvolatile organochlorine through biological and abiotic pathways represent a new oceanic sink for this element.

The study titled, “A marine sink for chlorine in natural organic matter,” has been published in “Nature Geoscience.”

Mayer and Thornton examine the ocean using biogeochemistry — or how organisms and materials chemically interact in Earth surface environments.

The findings, says Mayer, pave the way to look for yet-to-be-discovered compounds and enzyme systems. Organic molecules that contain chlorine are often potent chemicals — including antibiotics, insecticides and poisons including dioxin.

The discoveries also raise questions, he says, including: Are such compounds made on purpose or by accident in the ocean and what consequences might they have for the fate of marine organic carbon?

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

UMaine’s Pianka Earns Fellowship to Work on Marine Policy Issues

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

Karen Pianka, a graduate student in the School of Marine Sciences at the University of Maine, has been awarded a Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship that begins in February 2016.

Named after John A. Knauss, a founder of Sea Grant, a program of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the fellowship matches graduate students with positions in the legislative and executive branches of government in the Washington, D.C. area for one year.

“It is a great honor to be selected for this fellowship and I am very excited to have the opportunity to focus on national policy issues,” says Pianka, a candidate in the dual degree master’s program in marine biology and marine policy.

“The Knauss fellowship is an excellent milestone on the way to reach my goal of working full time on marine policy issues. I look forward to connecting with others with similar interests in Washington.”

Pianka’s advisers are Teresa Johnson, associate professor of marine policy, and Paul Rawson, associate professor of marine science.

“I am extremely excited about Karen’s selection as a Knauss fellow,” says Johnson. “With her considerable experience communicating and engaging with stakeholders and keen understanding of both science and policy, she is a perfect fit for this fellowship.”

“Karen’s research has centered on Maine’s aquaculture industry; she has worked closely with members of Maine’s shellfish culture,” says Rawson. “Through her interaction with industry members she has gained a strong appreciation for how science and policy impact their businesses.”

Pianka grew up in Austin, Texas. She holds bachelor’s degrees in music and biology from the University of Texas at Austin and Oberlin College, respectively. She has considerable experience with stakeholders and decision-makers through her work at the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department.

In addition to Sea Grant, the Maine Agriculture and Forest Experiment Station and the School of Marine Sciences have financially supported Pianka. Additional funding for her research has been provided by the Maine Aquaculture Innovation Center.

Pianka joins Noah Oppenheim, a graduate student at the UMaine Darling Marine Center in Walpole, as well as 74 other graduates from around the nation in the Knauss Class of 2016.

Maine Sea Grant will begin accepting applications for 2017 Knauss Fellowships in December.

Ice Age to Digital Age

Wednesday, July 8th, 2015

Woolly mammoths that 12,000 years ago roamed the treeless tundra that is now Maine are gone, but unique landscape features formed during the retreat of a continental glacial ice sheet in that epoch remain.

Down East, Maine is an outdoor historical museum. And thanks to a collaboration between Hal Borns and Josh Plourde, Ice Age creations are now part of the digital age.

Starting in his senior year as an undergraduate in the School of Earth and Climate Sciences, Plourde designed a free iPad app to enable ecotourists, schoolchildren and history buffs to experience Ice Age landmarks in Down East, Maine — including the Bubbles in Acadia National Park and boreal forest between Cutler and Lubec.

Plourde now is the communications manager for UMaine’s Advanced Structures and Composites Center.

“Science is my first and foremost love and to make it more accessible and relatable keeps me ticking,” says Plourde, who began designing websites when he was a high school student at Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln, Maine.

Glacial geologist Borns is the app’s virtual tour guide.

The app is based on the award-winning Maine’s Ice Age Trail: Down East, Map and Guide developed, in part, in 2006 by Borns, professor emeritus of glacial and quaternary geology and founder of the University of Maine Climate Change Institute.

An Internet connection isn’t necessary to use the app that highlights 46 unique landscape features created between 13,000 and 16,000 years ago when the Laurentide Ice Sheet withdrew northward the last time.

The app can be downloaded from the Ice Age trail website  and from iTunes. Smartphone and computer users can access the same content on the website.

Ice Age trail features include drowned forests, deltas, bluffs, moraines, peat bogs, glacial grooves and other natural landmarks, many of which dot the coastal corridor from Ellsworth Falls to Red Beach between Robbinston and Calais.

Ecotourists and sightseers on-site can download the app on their iPad to inform and enhance their firsthand personal experiences.

Educators and schoolchildren around the country can utilize the app for classroom lessons and explorers around the planet can make stops along the trail while couch surfing in their living rooms.

“This helps people understand how the land got to be what it is. It gives kids in school a sense of place of the land-based economy,” Borns says of Washington and Hancock counties, where making holiday wreaths, digging clams and picking blueberries are commonplace and dependent on geologic events that took place 15,000 to 20,000 years ago.

When the Laurentide Ice Sheet scraped and gouged its way northward, Cadillac Mountain formed in what is now Acadia National Park. Borns says the summit of Cadillac — at 1,530 feet — was likely the first part of Eastern Maine to emerge from the ice approximately 16,000 years ago.

When the 1.5-mile-thick ice sheet crept northward, Borns says it also carved Somes Sound in Acadia National Park. Somes Sound is a fjard — a glacially sculpted, U-shaped valley overtaken by the sea.

Ancient shoreline beaches also formed. In Columbia Falls, for instance, a 20-foot-high wave-cut bluff and terrace were created when the sea level briefly steadied 230 feet higher that it is today, then rapidly lowered. These scenic sand expanses look like they belong on a Cape Cod brochure … except they’re more than 200-plus feet above sea level in the Pine Tree state.

As the glacier melted and retreated, ocean water flooded land that had been depressed by the massive weight of the ice sheet. Over time, the land rebounded, says Borns, and the sea retreated.

For years, Borns researched the state’s landscape. Pam Person, director of Maine Global Climate Change, LLC, suggested he share his knowledge about glaciers and geology with the public.

Person, whom Borns calls a mover and shaker, knew of an Ice Age ecotourism trail in Wisconsin and thought Maine would do well to publicize its even more impressive trail.

Borns followed her advice. A few years later, with a $50,000 National Science Foundation grant, he and cartographer Michael Hermann produced the colorful map packed with photos, descriptions, directions, definitions and details, including wooly mammoth graphics that mark the 46 landmarks on Maine’s Ice Age Trail: Down East, Map and Guide.

The map won Best of Category in the 34th annual American Congress on Surveying and Mapping/Cartography and Geographic Information Society Map Design Competition.

Borns gave maps — 10,000 were originally printed — to schools and town offices Down East. And the map — which Borns estimates represents about $1 million in research — sells for $8.95 at the UMaine Bookstore. Proceeds from sales of maps are used to produce more copies.

A website — — was created to accompany and complement the map. And this spring, Borns and Plourde unveiled the free iPad app and an updated website.

For the app, Plourde shot video interviews — sometimes in multiple seasons — with Borns at landmarks; Borns shares details and history about the respective features.

The app also highlights photos taken by photographer Jeff Kirlin as well as facts, details and geology history from the information-dense map.

Borns — whose career has spanned decades and continents — is at ease talking in-depth about glacial ecology. His interest in geology was sparked at Tufts University. Though he started on the electrical engineering track, after he heard a lecture about the Grand Canyon in an elective geology class, he changed course.

He earned a bachelor’s at Tufts and a master’s and doctorate at Boston University, all in geology. He was a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University before arriving at UMaine. Borns estimates during his career, he advised and shared his interest in geology with about 3,000 students, including UMaine paleoclimatologist Karl Kreutz.

Plourde, like Borns, intended to pursue engineering as a career. And like Borns, Plourde took a geology course and was hooked.

In 2012, while an undergraduate at UMaine, Plourde traveled with Kreutz to conduct field research in Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska, on the Kahiltna Glacier that flows from Mount McKinley. He graduated in 2013 with a bachelor’s in Earth and Climate Sciences.

While working on the app, Plourde says he learned a lot about the formation of Cadillac Mountain — one of his favorite Maine spots.

Borns has more than a few geological tales to tell about Maine sites.

For instance, in addition to beaches 230 feet above sea level, Borns says seashells have been unearthed beneath the paper mill in East Millinocket along the West Branch of the Penobscot River, more than 100 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. Those shells indicate how far afield the sea invaded the land after the glacial ice sheet retreated and before the Earth’s crust rebounded.

And, says Borns, the remains of a Woolly mammoth were excavated in Scarborough.

With the app, people locally and worldwide can learn about the state’s geological history and tour Maine’s beautiful and unique outdoor museum.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777

Celebrating 50 Years

Monday, July 6th, 2015

The Darling Marine Center, located on the edge of the Damariscotta River estuary, is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The center was opened in 1965 after Ira C. Darling, a retired Chicago insurance executive, donated 127 acres of farmland to the University of Maine with the purpose of establishing a marine laboratory.

Today, 50 people occupy the center year-round, including faculty, staff and students. The center invites alumni and members of the community to celebrate its half-century birthday with events, tours and seminars.

To kick off the celebrations, the center will host “Wednesday Walking Tours” which will run for the months of July and August at 10:30 a.m. at the DMC. Staff will give a walking tour of their waterfront laboratories and speak about current research projects focusing on lobster ecology and fisheries management, shellfish aquaculture, remote sensing, coastal food webs and ocean acidification. The tour is open to the public and will last approximately 90 minutes.

Four talks will follow as part of the “Science on Tap Seminar” series, which will take place from 6–7 p.m. at the Newcastle Publick House.

The following describes the focus of each talk:

  • July 8: “Some lasting effects of fisheries on Maine’s hidden kelp forests”
    Bob Steneck, School of Marine Sciences and Darling Marine Center
  • July 15: “Spying on our oceans with satellites and robots”
    Mary Jane Perry, interim director, Darling Marine Center
  • July 22: “Shellfish aquaculture: Job creation, tasty bivalves and some cool science too”
    Carter Newell, Pemaquid Oyster Company, Pemaquid Mussel Farms
  • July 29: “Darling worms: A rich legacy of polychaete research”
    Pete Jumars, School of Marine Sciences and Darling Marine Center

Additional events include an Alumni Day on Thursday, Aug. 6 which will feature a Damariscotta River cruise, lobster bake and campfire entertainment. The following day, the center will host a UMaine Celebration Day. These two events are by invitation only and participants should register by July 24 at

The final event — Darling Marine Center Open House — will consist of activities for all ages and will take place from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 8. Staff will lead participants throughout the facilities to meet the plants and animals that share Maine’s shores and learn the tools and techniques used in the field of marine science.

Contact: Amanda Clark, 207.581.3721

UMaine Researchers Adapt DNA Method to Detect Invasive Fishes in Maine Waters

Monday, July 6th, 2015

Detecting invasive lake and river species using just a water sample would be a dream come true for wildlife managers and regulators in the state. And University of Maine researchers may soon make this an inexpensive reality.

Michael Kinnison, professor of evolutionary applications at the University of Maine, realized the need for an early invasive species detection system that would be more sensitive, require less specialized training and labor by field staff, present little to no threat to non-targeted species, and could be implemented at a fraction of the cost of current detection approaches.

The method now typically used for detecting the presence of invasive species is word of mouth from anglers and other concerned members of the public, followed by many hours of netting, angling and electrofishing by state biologists, says Kinnison.

Many times, reports go unverified until fish are abundant enough to be regularly caught. Current methods also are unlikely to detect the presence of invasive juveniles before they are large enough to be caught by anglers and biologists.

Kinnison is leading a project to adapt emerging environmental DNA (eDNA) approaches to detect the presence of invasive species, and other aquatic species, in Maine waters. Environmental DNA detection targets species-specific DNA material shed by aquatic organisms when they die, defecate or shed skin cells. That DNA can last up to several weeks in surrounding waters and be detected in water samples.

The pilot portion of this project, funded by the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund, includes use of water samples to describe the extent of invasive northern pike, Esox lucius, in the Penobscot River system.

“This technology has the potential to greatly enhance detection of many aquatic species by providing a much more sensitive and cost-effective approach than current field survey approaches,” he says.

According to the Maine Inland Fisheries & Wildlife Department, Northern Pike was illegally introduced into the Belgrade Chain of Lakes in the 1970s.  Today, they are present in at least 16 lakes in the Kennebec, Androscoggin, and coastal river drainages and are suspected in several other locations. Managers have traced the introduction of species such as pike from illegal transport or by out-migration from lakes where they have become established. Because pike are top predators, their introduction negatively impacts the state’s prized salmon populations.

Kinnison and ecology and environmental science graduate student Lauren Turinetti refined a quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) primer set, and fluorescent DNA binding probe, to detect a short but unique sequence of the northern pike DNA. The PCR amplification system turns a few original copies of pike DNA in a water sample into billions, and the fluorescent probe signals how many copies are made. Using this technique they have successfully detected pike DNA in water samples collected from Pushaw Lake in Penobscot County, Maine. The water samples they used were no bigger than a normal soda bottle (1 liter). They’re now working to refine their field sampling and detection approaches to implement a wider-scale survey for pike in the Penobscot drainage.

By collecting water samples throughout the drainage the investigators hope to obtain a snapshot of how far pike have spread in places where dam removals, passage projects and repairs have improved migration of anadromous species — but also may have inadvertently opened the door to pike, says Kinnison.

Further funding by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service State Wildlife Grants Program via the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife will allow Kinnison to expand this technique to other species of special concern, including imperiled native species.

This relatively quick and inexpensive method could help Maine combat its invasive species crisis and help managers more efficiently apply their limited resources to a diversity of conservation challenges, saving valuable resources for management of invasions from the start rather than detecting them when they’re already established.

The most widely referenced paper (Pimental et al. 2005) on this issue reports that invasive species costs the United States more than $120 billion in damages every year, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service.  Invasive species are also a leading cause contributing to the demise of many threatened or endangered species.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has adopted eDNA early detection as a core component of its invasive Asian carp monitoring program in the Great Lakes region. In 2010 alone, the federal government spent $78.5 million to prevent the introduction of carp to the Great Lakes, where they would threaten Great Lakes fisheries and endangered aquatic species.

In the future, the researchers hope to fine tune the method so it will not only determine the presence of multiple species, but also abundance.

“Right now we are using quantitative PCR to detect single species, but with the developments that are occurring, we are probably not that far down the road from being able to detect and estimate the abundance of numerous species within the same water samples,” says Kinnison.

Contact: Amanda Clark, 207.581.3721