Invasion of the forest snatcher
After more than a century of clearing
for agriculture, browsing by deer and die-offs related to disease, the
forests on Monhegan Island, Maine, appear to be regenerating with a
healthy mix of hardwoods and softwoods.
That's the good news.
The bad news is that an invasive non-native plant known as Japanese
barberry now threatens the forests. It already infests almost 40 percent
of the island's 360 acres of forest, forming an impenetrable thicket in
some areas that can exclude other vegetation, according to two
University of Maine scientists.
"This is the first time in Maine that I've seen a forest dominated by
barberry. We didn't expect the barberry to be such a problem," says Bill
Livingston, a professor in the UMaine Department of Forest Ecosystem
Science who co-authored the study with master's student Rick Dyer of
Monhegan, nine miles off the mid-coast, is home to a year-round
community of 75, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, and a summer season
The study by Dyer and Livingston is the first thorough quantitative
survey of the island's forests. It was done at the request of the
Monhegan Island Association to provide an informed view about the future
Future forest health was in doubt because a parasitic plant — dwarf
mistletoe — has killed most of the white spruce in the last 20 years.
The vulnerable white spruce stands were only on abandoned fields, most
of which appeared in the early 1900s.
Today, native red spruce is regenerating in the old stands, along with
maple, mountain ash and other hardwoods. Red spruce is much more
tolerant of the parasitic plant and thrives in the continuously forested
areas. Now barberry is the new threat to the recovery and health of the
As engineers and scientists look for ways to increase fuel efficiency in
cars and trucks, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has awarded a
more than $177,000 grant to the University of Maine for research on a
business-oriented strategy to achieve fuel savings. Resource economist
Jonathan Rubin, interim director of UMaine's Margaret Chase Smith Center
for Public Policy, will lead the effort to study the benefits of a
tradable fuel economy credit system.
Rubin will work with David Greene and Paul Leiby of the Oak Ridge
National Laboratory. The research will include students at UMaine and
the University of Tennessee, which administers Oak Ridge.
A fuel economy credit system would provide an incentive for
manufacturers to increase fuel efficiency, says Rubin, while still
meeting consumer preferences. In a recent review of national fuel
efficiency programs, a National Research Council committee suggested
that such a system could produce greater fuel savings than increasing
the CAFE (corporate average fuel efficiency) standards alone.
Vehicle manufacturers earn fuel economy credits when the average mileage
of their fleets exceeds the federal standard. Those credits can be used
to offset any penalties levied against the manufacturers when average
mileage is below standard. The credits cannot currently be traded.
Researchers will study several types of tradable fuel economy credit
systems, and will calculate the fuel efficiency benefits that result
from rule changes.
Average fuel economy of new U.S. light-duty vehicles is 24.5 miles per
gallon, a significant drop from its 1989 peak of 25.6 miles per gallon.
It's estimated that light-duty vehicles emitted 16 percent more
greenhouse gases in 1999 than in 1990.
Living below the line
Of the more than 11 percent of Maine residents living below the federal
poverty threshold, almost half are alone in single-person households,
according to a study conducted by the Margaret Chase Smith Center for
Public Policy at the University of Maine.
In six of the state's 16 counties, half of the people living alone and
below the poverty level are age 65 and older. In all but four counties,
more than 60 percent of households below poverty have one or more
members working full- or part-time jobs.
"Poverty rates, income, employment, and the rate of receipt of benefits
and services vary regionally within Maine. Understanding these regional
variations and the specific demographics of poverty, such as age and
education, should be useful to policymakers and service providers,"
according to Ann Acheson, a research associate in the Margaret Chase
Smith Center and author of Poverty in Maine 2003.
Poverty in Maine 2003, a report on the status of Maine's county and
local poverty, was commissioned by the Maine Community Action
Association (MCAA). Acheson used data from the state Department of Human
Services' food stamp and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF)
programs; the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program administered by
the Maine State Housing Authority; Department of Labor unemployment
data; and 2000 Census information.
Among the study's other findings:
Three counties — Aroostook, Piscataquis and Washington — had median
household incomes more than 20 percent below the statewide household
median income of $37,240.
The aging of the population and out-migration by younger families is
contributing to higher poverty rates in several counties.
Statewide in fiscal 2001–02, 8.5 percent of the total population
received TANF or food stamps.
Higher education often is cited as one of the most important population
characteristics affecting economic well-being. In Maine, almost 70
percent of the population reports lacking a college degree, compared
with 61 percent in the other New England states.
This spring, University of Maine student teachers will learn science
from researchers at the world's largest mammalian genetic research
facility. The lessons will then be incorporated into the students'
Students in UMaine's Master of Science in Teaching (MST) Program will
benefit from a Howard Hughes Medical Institute grant to Jackson
Laboratory, a nonprofit biomedical research institute in Bar Harbor,
Maine. The almost $540,000 grant will support research internships for
Susan McKay, chair of the university's Department of Physics and
Astronomy, and director of the Center for Science and Mathematics
Education Research, will oversee the UMaine portion of the program in
which students will work with Jackson Lab scientists in their
laboratories. Subsequently, MST program faculty members will work with
students to help them translate their experiences for the classroom.
Jackson Lab was one of 19 grant recipients out of an eligible pool of
300 institutions across the country.
Chemistry moves in
Last month, University of Maine faculty and students moved into newly
renovated laboratories, offices and seminar classrooms in Aubert Hall.
The Department of Chemistry is the principal occupant of Aubert Hall.
The Native American Studies Program and the School of Marine Sciences
also occupy lab and office space there.
The renovations include new chemistry labs equipped with
state-of-the-art ventilation hoods and bench top work spaces.
Computational chemistry research and instructional spaces are in the
center of the building, while facilities that handle chemicals are at
Much of the department's research and instructional instrumentation,
such as the Fourier transform-ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometer,
or FT-ICR, will be housed in the upgraded laboratories. Faculty and
students conduct research in areas that include chemical and biological
sensors, biological and medicinal chemistry, wood and paper chemistry,
environmental chemistry, and surface chemistry.
Renovations completed to date are the first phase of an estimated $21
million total project. The Maine legislature and the University of Maine
System funded $9 million and $3 million, respectively.
Named in honor of Alfred Bellamy Aubert, professor of chemistry from
1874–1909, the hall was built in 1914 to house the departments of
chemistry and chemical engineering.
Carbon in the sun
While the debate over global climate change focuses on carbon dioxide in
the air, scientists have long known that atmospheric concentrations of
carbon depend on processes in soils, forests, rivers and the oceans. To
understand one such process, University of Maine geochemist Larry Mayer
has turned to North America's longest river.
The Mississippi drains about 40 percent of the continental United States
and carries to the Gulf of Mexico enormous quantities of carbon — much
of it as small particles of organic matter. Significantly, much of that
carbon disappears after delivery to sediments in the Gulf.
"Take the mighty Mississippi or other muddy rivers, follow the
particulate organic matter and go look for it on the continental shelf
or in the estuaries, and about two-thirds of it is gone," he says. "We
know it happens in the Mississippi, the Amazon, the Ganges and others. A
lot of carbon is disappearing, and no one quite knows how."
With a $294,000 National Science Foundation grant, Mayer is studying
several hypotheses involving sunlight, microorganisms and iron oxide.
One he calls the sunburn hypothesis. In his lab at UMaine's Darling
Marine Center in Walpole, Maine, Mississippi River sediments were put
"Our experimental setup is basically a suntan parlor. After several days
of exposure, we measure the organic matter concentration in the mud and,
lo and behold, we see that about two-thirds of it is gone," says Mayer.
"It seems to be a sunburn reaction in that it peels the organic matter
off the clay mineral surfaces with which it's associated."
Mayer is now studying river processes such as light penetration into the
water column, and the mixing and distribution of river sediments in
near-shore areas. The results of his work should help fill an important
gap in scientists' understanding of the global carbon cycle and may
contribute to greenhouse gas reduction strategies.
Valuing diverse crop traits over
New crops stand a better chance of helping to fill the world's
breadbaskets if plant breeders take farmers' needs into account early in
the crop development process, according to a new research report that is
one of the first to demonstrate farmers' preferences using a
The findings by University of Maine agricultural economist Timothy
Dalton could help agricultural research organizations work with farmers
in developing countries to increase food production.
In August, his paper on the economic values West African farmers place
on rice traits won a second-place award at the 25th International
Conference of Agricultural Economists. It will be published in the
journal Agricultural Economics in 2004.
Asian rice, first brought to Africa in the 1600s, gradually became a
primary staple over indigenous, low-yielding African rice in some areas.
Since the 1950s, rice breeders have developed new varieties, but they
are not well accepted.
To find out what farmers value in their rice varieties, Dalton conducted
a two-year project beginning in 1997 in Ivory Coast with Monty Jones, an
internationally respected rice breeder. At the time, both Dalton and
Jones worked for the West Africa Rice Development Association.
Less than 11 percent of the cropland in the West African rice belt is
planted with high-yielding rice varieties, says Dalton. He found that
farmers value factors such as plant height, days to maturity and
processing characteristics more than how much a plant yields. Dalton was
able to derive economic values of different crop traits, which can then
be used by breeders to move directly toward useful technologies.
Artist to artist
A series of art mentoring workshops designed to link teen and senior
artists was made possible by a $3,500 Excellence in Education grant from MBNA.
The grant proposal was written by University of Maine social work
graduate students Ezra Kreamer and Robbie Connor, and faculty member
Nancy Webster, to benefit Senior College, a nonprofit organization
affiliated with UMaine's Hutchinson Center in Belfast, Maine.
During a two-week period earlier this fall, six artists from the
community, all 50 years of age and older, conducted small workshops for
the high school artists in the Belfast area. The workshops followed a
community-based summer arts festival, also created to help bridge
"Through better understanding of the artists' life experiences, we began
to dispel myths and fears," says Kreamer.
Last semester, Kreamer and Connor had their field placements with Senior
College. Their work focused on the college's membership in an effort to
ensure that it was meeting the educational needs of as many seniors as
possible in the community. The key was in dialogue. The graduate
students met with Senior College leaders to discuss the logistics of
increasing enrollment and being inclusive, and they went into the
community to talk to seniors to get their perspectives on ageism and the
services they need.
Initiative links sports, standards,
Federal Seed money will shape a coaching education initiative at the
University of Maine that coincides with the state's learning standards.
Former Maine Education Commissioner J. Duke Albanese is leading the
effort to create research-based curriculum development and community
awareness to improve the training of coaches, and to identify and
implement best practices for school sports.
"Coaching Maine Youth to Success" is designed to improve the sports
experience as a means of heightening the aspirations and academic
performance of student athletes, and encouraging more students to
participate in and benefit from sports.
It is co-directed by College of Education and Human Development Dean
Robert Cobb and funded by a two-year, $397,400 U.S. Department of
The overall goal is to be a catalyst, leader and resource for schools
and communities in developing quality interscholastic sports programs
that complement high academic standards. The initiative builds on the
work of the college's Maine Center for Coaching Education.
Responsible for research
Michael Eckardt, a medical psychologist with extensive experience
conducting research and managing research programs at the National
Institutes of Health (NIH), is the new vice president for research at
the University of Maine.
In 1976, Eckardt began working for NIH's National Institute on Alcohol
Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). He was an active researcher for more than
20 years, and played a significant role in the development of federal
guidelines related to alcohol and health. Eckardt also was on the
University of Oregon Medical School adjunct faculty.
When he retired earlier this year, Eckardt led NIAAA's Planning and
Evaluation Branch. UMaine's vice president for research is responsible
for: developing and executing strategies related to the institution's
research mission; representing university interests to government,
industry and other constituencies; and overseeing policies related to
research, technology transfer and economic development.