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UMaine Today Magazine


Defying traditional roles

Two Kids and a Lizard
Photo by Rebecca Bliege Bird

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Research by University of Maine anthropologists Rebecca Bliege Bird and Douglas Bird is providing insights into early human ways of life, including the division of labor between the sexes and protracted childhoods.

To do their research, the Birds live in Australia for extended periods with aboriginal hunter-gatherers, the Mardu of Western Australia's Great Sandy Desert and the Meriam of the Great Barrier Reef.

Their most recent trip, January–July 2002, was funded by the National Science Foundation and the Leakey Foundation.

Conventional explanations for divisions of labor contend that men and women worked together to maximize the family's food. But the Birds' research draws that theory into question, as detailed in the lead article in the journal AnthroQuest.

The Birds found that Mardu women hunt what is predictable to catch, such as lizards and small game. Men hunt larger animals, such as bush turkey and kangaroo. The Birds' data indicate that women's work consistently yields more food; men choose hunting activities that demonstrate skill and earn them social or political gains.

The Birds' research on foraging among Meriam children is outlined in two articles in a recent issue of Human Nature. Their analysis, which again challenges conventional explanations, was highlighted in July in the New York Times.

It was thought that long childhoods allow time to learn complex hunting skills. But among the Meriam, children quickly master high-skill activities such as spearfishing. The Birds say growing slowly keeps children from being competitive threats to adults.

Fresh from the field

From early summer to late fall, shareholders come twice a week to pick up their dividends — bags brimming with greens and peas, corn, cucumbers and cabbage, squash, melons, and other fresh fruits and vegetables. The farmers are there to answer questions and to offer recipes for the prolific produce.

The process connects consumers with their food — community-supported agriculture (CSA) at its best.

The student-operated Black Bear Food Guild, a project of The University of Maine's Sustainable Agriculture Program, was initiated in 1995 to provide in-the-field learning. Students manage three acres of certified organic vegetables, herbs, flowers and cover crops at UMaine's Rogers Farm, providing fresh produce to 75 shareholders.

Annual fees paid by members, coupled with sales of surplus produce at a farm stand and local farmers' market, make the Black Bear Food Guild self-sufficient. Every year, there's a waiting list of prospective shareholders.

"This is a great program because it's so hands-on and we're in charge of ourselves," says Julia Trunzo of Kinnelon, N.J., a sustainable agriculture major and one of six students managing the guild this season.

Beginning with the selection of heirloom and hybrid seeds, the students are active in a range of farm management activities — from pre-season planning and planting to cultivating and harvesting. Plus, there's always weeding — and more weeding.

Sustainable organic agriculture is "farming within and with nature, rather than combating nature," says Cornville, Maine, native Michael Bowman, a sustainable agriculture major.

To emphasize the point, the students instituted a composting program so shareholders can return their peelings, husks and other organic food waste to the farm. The result is community-supported agriculture brought full circle.

A living tribute

The large image of a waving American flag, created out of petunias and marigolds in Fort Allen Park, Portland, Maine, honors the victims and heroes of Sept. 11.

University of Maine Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners designed and planted the living memorial. In a dedication ceremony on Memorial Day, special recognition was given to the seven Sept. 11 victims from Maine.

Two Maine master gardeners, Ann Miles of Portland and Karen Henderson of Scarborough, coordinated the garden project. Materials were donated by area businesses.

"The response to this idea has just been overwhelming," Miles says.

Studying pollution in a pristine park

Understanding the effects of pollution on the environment sometimes requires finding the cleanest places on the globe. Thirty years ago, Bruce Wiersma found such a place in the mountains of extreme southern Chile.

At that time, he was helping to establish a network of pristine global monitoring sites. By measuring the function of natural ecosystems, the scientists had reference points by which to measure more impacted areas.

Since 1984, Wiersma, dean of the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture at The University of Maine, has traveled to Torres del Paine National Park more than 20 times to collect data from the soil, water, trees and air. The research, involving graduate and undergraduate students, has revealed some of the lowest concentrations of heavy metals, such as cadmium, copper and lead, of any site in the world.

Torres del Paine is internationally recognized for its beauty and pristine qualities. In 1978, the United Nations declared the site an international Biosphere Reserve and recently named it a World Heritage Site. For his research there, Wiersma has received funding support from the United Nations, the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Department of State, and most recently, the National Geographic Society.

While Wiersma is starting to see evidence of human impact in the park, including a rise in lead levels, his research continues. Working with him are former student Greg White, now with the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, and UMaine Ph.D. student Alex Elvir Murillo of Honduras.

A decade of youth sports

This summer, the National Youth Sports Program (NYSP) opened its 10th season at The University of Maine, offering six weeks of activities for more than 200 area youngsters.

The free day camp features swimming and team sports, as well as educational opportunities for youths ages 10-16 from more than 30 local communities.

The program and staff are committed to helping campers achieve the goals of believing in themselves, getting along with others, and experiencing success through individual and team achievement.

This year, annual health assessments for young participants were provided by staff from UMaine's Cutler Health Center, Bangor Family Practice, Healthworks and Eastern Maine Medical Center.

NYSP is made possible by a partnership between the U.S. government and participating universities and communities, with oversight by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. Under the federal grant, most campers must come from families who meet Department of Health and Human Services income guidelines.

UMaine's award-winning NYSP is directed by Professor of Education Stephen Butterfield. Until this year, UMaine's NYSP was the only one of its kind in northern New England.

The Atlantic ecosystem

Three University of Maine scientists will help to lead a new international effort to improve understanding of the North Atlantic Ocean ecosystem.

Susan Brawley, Les Watling and Robert Steneck in the School of Marine Sciences, as well as three former UMaine graduate students — Ester Serrao, Richard Wahle and J. Emmett Duffy — are on the 27-member steering committee for CORONA (Coordinating Research on the North Atlantic).

The project is funded by a five-year, $499,803 National Science Foundation grant to Duke University.

Among the initiatives the grant will establish is an annual meeting of European and North American scientists to share their research, consider biological differences between ecosystems on both sides of the Atlantic and develop collaborative projects.

One expected benefit is better prediction of the ecological effects of invasive species transported across the ocean. Scientists also hope to study how organisms have evolved under the influence of currents that travel from the Pacific Ocean through the Arctic and into the North Atlantic.

Honors in Canadian history

Two doctoral candidates in The University of Maine History Department's Canadian Studies program have been awarded Fulbright scholarships and research grants from the Canadian Embassy.

Hans Carlson of Burlington, Vt., and Laura Detre of Warren, Ohio, will use the funds to conduct archival research in Canada and to study for a year at Canadian universities.

Carlson's research focuses on how the Cree people of Eastern James Bay in Quebec have interacted with the environment to develop their distinctive culture. Detre's work concerns immigration propaganda produced by the Canadian government and private institutions from 1896-1939.

Carlson and Detre were among about two dozen students awarded Graduate Study and Research Abroad grants through Fulbright's U.S.–Canada exchange. The competition was open to students whose research addresses aspects of the relationship between the U.S. and Canada.

Carlson's research will result in an "environmental history" of the Cree people, in which he describes how people create "cultural spaces" within their environments and how the environment shaped Cree culture. His work also will detail the way the Cree negotiated cultural space with the European settlers.

Detre's research comes to grips with government activities and the dynamics of transborder migration in North American history. In her work, she will examine documents such as posters and promotional brochures — materials depicting an ideal society for the prairies and designed to appeal to American and European farm families.

Writing across Maine

Young authors attended camp in three locations in the state this past summer, one of many service projects of the Maine Writing Project at The University of Maine.

The annual camp is led by some of the state's top writing teachers. They are among the more than 140 who have completed the rigorous requirements of the Maine Writing Project, which was established in 1997 in the University's College of Education and Human Development.

The Maine Writing Project is an affiliate of the National Writing Project, a federally funded professional development program designed to improve the teaching of writing at all grade levels.

Writing Project Fellows provide instruction to other teachers and offer innovative activities, such as a summer school literacy project for high school boys and a Rural Voices radio program, featuring students and educators in the state.

In cod blood

A recently discovered phenomenon in fish blood may have benefits in medicine, biology and aquaculture, according to University of Maine scientists Ione Hunt Von Herbing, Michael Vayda and Robert Cashon.

When some cold-water fish, such as cod, haddock and toadfish, encounter extreme cold or conditions that are low on life-giving oxygen, their red blood cells change shape. Under a microscope, the cells change from round to sickle shape, and they tend to clump together. In some species, the cells contain rods or needles of crystallized hemoglobin that can even cause tissue damage.

Sickling in fish blood may correspond to an inherited blood disorder in humans known as sickle cell disease, which can cause a variety of health problems. Fish blood may provide a useful model for sickle cell disease research, in addition to determining if these fish have special adaptations to extreme environments.

With funding from the National Science Foundation, UMaine scientists are testing the idea that sickle cell formation in fish may increase the chances for survival under stress. Testing for sickle cells in aquaculture stock also may indicate harmful levels of stress in fish.

Leading business

The former associate dean of the College of Business at Ohio University has assumed a new position as dean of the College of Business, Public Policy and Health at The University of Maine.

Daniel Innis earned a Ph.D. in business from Ohio State in 1991. That year, he joined the marketing faculty at Ohio University. In 1997, he became chair of the marketing department.

Innis was named associate dean of Ohio University's College of Business in 1999. In that job, he was responsible for the operational aspects of the college, including budgeting, strategic planning, program management and academic issues.

UMaine's College of Business, Public Policy and Health is the administrative home of nationally recognized programs in business, nursing, public administration and social work. It also includes UMaine's Center on Aging and the William S. Cohen Center for International Policy and Commerce.


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