Michael Kinnison's lab is exploring eco-evolutionary
questions using Trinidadian guppies, part of a large NSF Frontiers
in Integrative Biological Research (FIBR) project involving 12
universities and the U.S. Geological Survey.
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The eco-evolution race
In Australia, snakes have evolved in order to coexist with invasive,
toxic cane toads. Elsewhere on the planet, researchers have found plants
with an evolved tolerance to heavy metals, and zooplankton that have
evolved in order to survive on nutritionally poor cyanobacteria growing
in polluted water.
The ability of such populations to evolve in response to environmental
pressures threatening their existence is clear. But what determines how
and when a population will be rescued from extinction by such
contemporary evolution — adaptive changes occurring within a human life
The answer can be found in the study of eco-evolutionary dynamics,
according to biologists Michael Kinnison of the University of Maine and
Nelson Hairston of Cornell University, writing in Functional Ecology,
the journal of the British Ecological Society.
Historically, evolution has often been considered too slow to be
relevant to the ecological processes underlying extinction and
conservation biology. Recent recognition of widespread evolution in
contemporary time, spear-headed by earlier work by Kinnison, has begun
to overturn this perception and open the door to a new synthesis of
evolution's role in ecology. Instead of the usual focus on trait
evolution that characterizes most studies of evolution, the study of
eco-evolutionary dynamics considers how ongoing evolution influences
population abundance, the interactions of species, and even the ways
that nutrients and energy move through ecosystems.
In conservation biology, human impacts on environments and species that
drive population declines also often impose strong selection for
adaptations that may help species recover. In this respect, conservation
problems may often constitute an eco-evolutionary race between the
factors causing declines and the ability of species to sufficiently
adapt to those changing conditions. Kinnison and Hairston believe this
perspective encourages a broader scientific focus, going beyond the
acute problems of imperiled populations and growing invasions to
consider the complex mechanics that allow some populations to succeed
while so many others fail.
In the winds of war
The high density of depleted uranium (DU) makes it ideal for the
manufacture of military armor plating and armor-piercing munitions.
However, the dust that results from explosions and fires involving
equipment made with DU is becoming an international health concern for
military personnel and civilians.
DU is less radioactive than the natural metal, but it is a suspected
human carcinogen, affecting the bronchial cells of the lung through
inhalation of particles.
Scientists at the University of Southern Maine and University of Maine
recently conducted one of the first studies of the clastogenicity
(chromosomal damage) of particulate and soluble DU in human bronchial
cells. They found that DU dust particles did cause toxic and
DNA-altering effects in human lung cells, comparable to those caused by
other carcinogenic metals. Soluble DU was found to be toxic to cells,
but did not damage the chromosomes.
Further research will focus on epithelial cells to determine DU's
ability to cause lung disease or tumors.
The researchers' findings were re-ported in the journal Chemical
Research in Toxicology, published by the American Chemical Society.
This fall, the first copies of Fogler Library's newly digitized
out-of-print books are available to patrons throughout Maine via the
library's online catalog and to the public through Amazon.com.
In a large-scale project to digitize public domain titles, including
rare books, the University of Maine, Toronto Public Library, Cincinnati
Public Library and Emory University partnered earlier this year with
BookSurge, Amazon.com's print-on-demand service, and Kirtas
Technologies, the manufacturer of automated book scanning systems.
The collaboration and cutting-edge technology provide greater access to
materials once only available on-site to patrons researching in the
libraries' special collections. Digitalization also is a strategic
preservation effort for leading libraries nationwide.
Fogler Library and the Maine State Library are collaborating in the
project to digitize such out-of-print and rare materials as UMaine
publications, historical Maine town reports, local histories, and
documents relating to Wabanaki peoples.
Ultimately, the scanned titles will be available to be read online (with
full text search capability) or downloaded by URSUS users. Low-cost,
bound copies will be sold through BookSurge, with a portion of the
proceeds being recouped by the libraries to cover the expense of
"This project will dramatically enhance our ability to support research
in history, the social sciences, the environment, genealogy, and on
various public policy issues," says Fogler Library Dean Joyce Rumery.
"It will also make a significant contribution toward our goal of making
our holdings available to all Maine residents."
Theories about the North Woods debate
Institutional change theories applied to the extensive discussions of
the 1994 proposal to create a Maine Woods National Park and Preserve
shed light on why the debates were so heated and immovable, according to
a University of Maine business professor and an economist.
Associate Professor of Management Stephanie Welcomer and Mark Haggerty,
who teaches in the Honors College, examined several hundred public
records from newspapers and journal articles on the proposed 3.2
million-acre Maine Woods National Park and Preserve. They studied the
extensive data set using principles of institutional adjustment,
including those of the 20th-century institutional economic theorist J.
In particular, the UMaine researchers found that three of Foster's
principles — technological determination, recognized interdependence and
minimal dislocation —- made discourse especially difficult on the
proposal by the group RESTORE: The North Woods.
The principle of technological determination hinges on "reliable
knowledge" for problem solving. According to the UMaine researchers,
sources of debate included conflicting projections for the wood products
industry. In addition, local communities and state officials did not
believe the economic studies commissioned by RESTORE.
Welcomer and Haggerty found that Maine communities experienced more
security by maintaining the status quo of the North Woods than by
investigating an alternative "perceived as too much of a threat to the
traditional way of life."
The principle of recognized interdependence basically requires a
community to agree to alter behavior or attitude. But in the case of the
Maine North Woods Park, local communities viewed the proposal as coming
from outsiders and involving federal regulation.
Under Foster's principle of minimal dislocation, widespread change in
the institution is perceived as difficult to accomplish.
"In this case, the park is perceived to change a way of life: culture,
economic livelihood, community makeup, traditions and recreation," wrote Welcomer and Haggerty in the
Journal of Economic Issues.
"It is understandable that such fundamental change would be opposed."
Insight Lite: Lobster dollars
The Lobster Institute at the University of Maine has compiled an
economic snapshot of Maine's lobster industry. Among the facts and
The estimated overall economic impact of the lobster fishery on the
Maine economy is between $816 million and $1.36 billion annually.
In 2006, Maine lobstermen landed more than 66 million pounds of lobster,
valued at more than $272 million. That's about $4.12 per pound.
Maine had 7,259 licensed lobstermen in 2005. Most (1,523 lobstermen)
fish in Maine Lobster Management Zone D, from the mouth of the Penobscot
River to Pemaquid. The next largest concentration of Maine lobstermen
trap in Zone A, from Schoodic Point to the Canadian border.
Active lobstermen are involved in the industry an average of 31 years,
holding a commercial lobster license or permit an average of 28 years,
according to the Lobster Socioeconomic Impact Survey, released by the
Gulf of Maine Research Institute in 2006.
According to the widely held American Dream, anyone can get ahead —
attain status and garner rewards — if he or she is talented and works
hard. But that same merit-based ideology also can lead people to
psychologically justify status inequalities, according to two social
psychologists at the University of Maine and University of California -
In two studies, researchers Shannon McCoy and Brenda Major found that
the pervasive merit-based belief system in American culture can cause
individuals to engage in system-justifying responses to personal and
group disadvantage when rejected by someone of perceived higher status.
As a result, even in the face of clear inequality, members of low status
groups may be encouraged to construe personal and group disadvantage as
deserved, and to minimize the perception that such disadvantage is due
In one study, women who were primed with merit-based messages (i.e.
effort leads to prosperity) blamed themselves more often than
discrimination when a man rejected them for a higher-status job in favor
of a male. Men in the same study who were similarly primed with
meritocracy blamed their rejection by a woman in favor of a female as
much on discrimination as on themselves.
In a second experiment of college-age women, those primed with
merit-based messages who then read an article about sexism endorsed
system-justifying stereotypes (i.e. men on average are more decisive
than women) more than those who did not receive meritocracy prompts or
who read about prejudice against an ethnic group. They also
self-stereotyped, rating themselves significantly higher in traits
pertaining to warmth than to competence.
Invasive terrestrial plants are a major issue in Maine and their sales
should be regulated, according to two opinion surveys conducted by
University of Maine researchers.
Recently compiled results of the surveys, one set from members of the
state's green industry and another from University of Maine Cooperative
Extension Master Gardeners, found widespread support for collaboration
to develop invasive plant regulations.
When asked about the role the green industry should play in the sale of
invasives, more than 36 percent of the Master Gardeners who responded to
the survey said businesses should not be allowed to sell any plants
known to be invasive in Maine. Nearly 38 percent of the green industry
members said businesses should be allowed to sell invasive plants, but
should be required to provide customers and clients with information
about how to manage them.
The survey, initiated last fall, was followed in May by a mandate from
the Maine legislature for the state's Department of Agriculture, Food
and Rural Resources to convene a stakeholder group to assess the danger
invasives pose to natural ecosystems.
The mandate is widely viewed as a first step toward the regulation of
such plants, according to the authors of the survey — Lois Stack of
UMaine Cooperative Extension; Donglin Zhang, Department of Plant, Soil
and Environmental Sciences; and Mary Rumpho, Department of Biochemistry,
Microbiology and Molecular Biology.
A $1.5 million, five-year grant to the University of Maine will better
prepare Maine teachers to work with a growing number of students just
learning or still perfecting their English language skills.
The U.S. Department of Education Title III grant will enable research
and teacher training in English as a Second Language (ESL). The program
being created through the grant also is expected to sensitize teachers
to the diverse and specific educational needs of a range of students who
bring cultural, language and significant religious differences to the
Maine schools now have more than 3,000 children and young adults who
speak Arabic, Chinese, French, Spanish, Cambodian, Vietnamese,
Serb-Croatian, Somali, Sudanese, Russian, Penobscot, Passamaquoddy or
American Sign languages, according to the Maine Department of Education.
To accommodate that growing number of students, the population of
ESL-trained teachers in Maine is growing exponentially.
While the classroom focus for multicultural students typically has been
on learning English, students should be encouraged to retain their
native languages, where so much of their cultural identity is reflected,
according to the program's codirectors.
"By allowing them to lose their native language, we're impoverishing the
state of Maine and its ability to become a player in a global economy,"
says Gisela Hoecherl-Alden, an associate professor of German and a
codirector of the program with Laura Lindenfeld, a research assistant
professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism, and in
UMaine's Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center.