Archive for the ‘College News’ Category

Events to mark Darling Marine Center’s 50th anniversary

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

The Darling Marine Center has a great line-up of  events for the local community and visitors to the area: tours, seminars and an open house. These events will happen in July and August and are free and open to the public. Details can be found here.

NSF Awards UMaine Grads $225,000 to Create Eco-Friendly Thermal Insulation Foam Board

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

An Orono-based company founded by two University of Maine graduates has been awarded $224,996 from the National Science Foundation to create a prototype for the first completely eco-friendly thermal insulation foam board.

Nadir Yildirim, a graduate of UMaine’s innovation engineering program and current Ph.D. student in the Wood Science and Technology Program in the School of Forest Resources, and Alexander Chasse, a 2013 civil engineering graduate from UMaine who works at the university conducting nanomaterial research, created Revolution Research, Inc. to develop recyclable and reusable products using cellulose nanofibrils (CNFs) for several industries.

“I believe RRI will open a new page in the insulation industry,” says Yildirim, the project’s principal investigator.

The pair started RRI in 2014 to develop and commercialize replacements of petroleum-based thermal insulation products. RRI’s current focus is the creation and commercialization of thermal and acoustical insulation foam boards for use in the construction industry.

One of the largest uses of energy is heating and cooling buildings, according to the researchers, which drives construction companies to search for products that improve insulation performance.

Foam board insulation products currently on the market are produced from petroleum-based chemicals. RRI aims to use CNFs and green polymers to produce an eco-friendly thermal insulation board with a lower carbon footprint as well as the necessary mechanical and thermal properties to meet market needs. The researchers also hope to offer the board at a comparable price to current insulation products.

CNFs have the ability to reinforce weak materials, permitting new composite products. The raw material, cellulose, is abundant and obtainable from renewable sources including plants and sea animals. Green polymers that will be used in the project also are a readily available renewable resource, but are weak and brittle without CNF reinforcement.

“RRI’s novel foam boards will not only be better for the environment than current petroleum-based products, but will also provide improved energy efficiency,” Yildirim says. “With a better thermal insulation you can save the environment; you can save lots of money.”

The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Phase I project also will allow the team to rent space and buy equipment for a laboratory. Currently RRI doesn’t have any employees, but within the next five years, Yildirim hopes the company will have its own Maine-based production facility with about 30 employees.

Successful completion of the project will provide the opportunity for Phase II, which would allow RRI to apply for a grant up to $750,000.

Since the company began, RRI has received a $5,000 award from the Maine Technology Institute, as well as $5,000 for winning first place at the 2015 UMaine Business Challenge, the state’s largest student entrepreneurship competition.

Contact: Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

Study Shows Bluefin Tuna Going Hungry Due to Size of Prey, not Abundance

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015
Maine coastBluefin tuna are going hungry in a sea full of fish because their foraging habits are most efficient with larger — not necessarily more abundant — prey, according to a study led by a University of Maine marine scientist.

Walter Golet, assistant research professor in the School of Marine Sciences and the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, led a research team that involved marine scientists from five institutions, including Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Simon Fraser University.

How can bluefin tuna go hungry in a sea full of fish?

In a paper in the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series titled “The paradox of the pelagics: why bluefin tuna can go hungry in a sea of plenty,” the seven authors outlined how the overall condition (fat content) of Atlantic bluefin tuna Thunnus thynnus in the Gulf of Maine declined despite an abundance of Clupea harengus, Atlantic herring — their preferred prey.

The Gulf of Maine is an important foraging ground for bluefin tuna, which spend up to six months there consuming high-energy prey such as the herring and in doing so accumulate as much as 200 pounds in fat. Energy acquired in the Gulf of Maine is vital to support bluefin tuna migration and reproduction.

The population of Atlantic herring has increased over the past two decades suggesting that foraging conditions should have been favorable for bluefin tuna. A decline in bluefin tuna condition despite abundant prey resources was puzzling, so the researchers tested hypotheses related to the energetic payoff of eating herring of different sizes, comparing this across different regions of the northwest Atlantic. Researchers had expected to find that due to the high abundance of herring in the Gulf of Maine, foraging would have been favorable for the bluefin tuna, thereby increasing their lipid stores and overall body condition. Their results suggest bluefin tuna are more sensitive to the size of their prey rather than prey abundance (i.e., for bluefin, bigger prey is better than smaller prey).

Researchers identified a correlation between bluefin tuna body condition, the relative abundance of large Atlantic herring and the energetic payoff resulting from consuming different sizes of herring. The correlation is consistent with the optimal foraging theory, a model used to predict how an animal behaves when it’s searching for food.

These correlations could explain why the condition of bluefin tuna suffers even when prey is abundant. According to the researchers, this may also explain a shift in distribution of bluefin tuna to offshore banks and locations further north on the northwest Atlantic shelf where herring (and their corresponding energetic payoff) are larger.

Management strategies for small pelagic fish, including sardines, herrings and anchovies, have the potential to alter food web dynamics and energy flow through changes in the size and abundance of these species. Changes in these fish stocks impact marine mammals and other large warm-bodied fish (like bluefin tuna) whose physiology is geared toward high energetic returns while foraging.

The researchers utilized the extensive data collected from the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Contact: Amanda Clark, 207.581.372

What’s Buzzin’

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015
Bee on flowerA group of University of Maine researchers is working to enhance native and honey bee populations by increasing beneficial pollinator flowers across Maine’s landscape. This is not a new idea — what is new is their choice of research location. Some might describe one of their sites as trashy, but the researchers think it’s just what they need.

The researchers — Alison Dibble, Lois Stack, Megan Leech, and Frank Drummond — are planting pollinator demonstration gardens at the inactive Pine Tree Landfill in Hampden and at G.W. Allen’s Blueberry farm located in Orland. Both plots will be used to educate farmers and community members about strategies that they can adopt to help keep bee communities thriving in the state.

“This project is important because one of the many hypothesized stressors that have been implicated in bee decline, including honey bees and native bees, is not having enough floral resources, which provides the pollen and nectar essential for bees,” says Drummond, professor of insect ecology.

Funded by the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the two-year project’s objective is to identify plantings — annuals, herbaceous perennials and woody shrubs — that are most beneficial to bees across Maine’s terrain, which is dominated by forest ecosystems that are not particularly conducive to bee life.

By enhancing habitats to fit the needs of pollinators, the researchers are giving back to the tiny buzzing insects that provide our agricultural systems with the crucial service of pollination.

As bees forage for food, they pollinate flowering plants by depositing pollen on the flower’s stigma, the receptive part of the plant’s female reproductive organ. The pollen will then germinate and fertilize the flower to produce fruits and seeds.

Conservation biologists in Maine, as well as worldwide, have raised concerns about declines in bee abundance and species diversity. Due to conversion of landscape for residential and commercial uses, natural bee habitats are being eliminated, which could have serious implications to various agricultural crops in Maine, such as blueberries.

According to David Yarbrough, professor of horticulture and a wild blueberry specialist for University of Maine Cooperative Extension, last year’s harvest of wild blueberry crops in Maine brought in a $250 million monetary return.  In 2014, Maine produced and harvested more than 104 million pounds of blueberries made possible, in part, by the free services bees provide.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, bees provide pollination to 80 percent of all flowering plants and 75 percent of fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the U.S. About 25,000 species of bees are known throughout the world and Maine is home to more than 270 species of native bees.

During the demonstrations, researchers and educators will discuss plants that are best utilized by bees and will stress the need to avoid flowers and shrubs treated with systemic insecticides because they can be detrimental to bees, says Drummond.

“It’s not just about planting flowers: it’s about planting flowers that are safe for the bees,” he says. Both sites will help researchers, farmers and educators better understand how these plots should be managed in order to be successful both agriculturally and ecologically. The first demonstration date has not been set, but the researchers are aiming to hold one in mid-August.

Pine Tree landfill, the first site for the demonstration, is managed by Casella Waste Services, which owns more than 400 landfills in the Northeast. If all goes well, the company hopes to host more pollinator gardens on their landfills, transforming unused land into flower-filled paradises for bees.

“I think the landfill is a great location for this project because it’s a piece of land that is not currently being used. Right now they use the methane that comes from the landfill to produce energy. So if we can use the same land for something else that is a good cause, it’s a win-win,” says Leech, a graduate student working with Drummond.

Leech’s master’s thesis is focused on flower nutrition, specifically whether bees visit flowers with higher nutritional value more frequently. She’s also looking at other floral characteristics that would impact flower nutrition such as nectar and pollen. The idea for her thesis sprouted while working on Dibble’s bee module project, when she observed bees showing a preference for some flowers over others, and wondered if it was related to nutrition.

The bee module — a five-year project started in 2012 — is aimed at determining which plants elicit the most bee visitations in order to create a baseline of what plants should be selected for the pollinator demonstration sites. In order to collect the data, Dibble setup 36 plots within 100-foot-by-100-foot areas on three Maine blueberry fields and at the University of Maine Rogers farm. By placing plots side-by-side, researchers were able to collect observations of bee visitations on a variety of different planting selections, which will help to better inform their recommendations to farmers.

The data they collect, which will focus on the success of flowering plant germination and bee visitation preferences, will be looked at over the next two years to determine if the increase in floral resources was beneficial to the bee populations.

Promoting the health of bee populations is relatively inexpensive in terms of the alternative, which is trying to pollinate plants without bees. If farmers planted pollinator plots next to their agricultural crops, they could decrease rental costs for honeybees, which are usually imported by farmers during the planting season, says Drummond.

Drummond hopes the project will encourage nonfarmers to invest in pollinator plantings for municipalities, private homes and state agencies, so — on a landscape level — bee numbers can increase.

“In the past, we’ve mostly been focusing on the farmers. But what makes this project more unique is that we are trying to provide outreach for the nonfarmers who can also have an impact on improving bee communities on the landscape,” says Drummond.

Contact: Amanda Clark, 207.581.3721

‘Rainforests of the Sea’

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

SteneckUniversity of Maine marine scientist Bob Steneck encouraged Dominican Republic officials and stakeholders to preserve and improve coral reefs — what he calls the tropical rainforests of the sea — in a keynote address on World Oceans Day, in Santo Domingo.

“They contain 25 percent of all species on Earth. However, they are also among the world’s most endangered ecosystems and, as such, the biodiversity, breakwater function, food resources and ecotourism value they provide for people are all at risk,” says Steneck.

“They are threatened worldwide but this is especially obvious in the Dominican Republic, where competing activities, such as coastal development and fishing pressure, have taken their toll.”

Steneck encouraged the Dominican Republic government and nongovernment organizations to work together to preserve reefs that are healthy and continue efforts to improve those that are degraded. His recommendations included banning the harvesting of parrotfish and investing in enforcement.

Although coral reefs suffer from global climate change and ocean acidification, Steneck says there are remarkable bright spots.

While quantifying corals, seaweed and sponges in transects in March, Steneck says he and fellow researchers found a wide range of reef conditions, from the bright spots — some of the best coral in all of the Caribbean — to some of the most degraded.

Repeatedly, it appeared the presence of healthy fish populations, especially parrotfish, corresponded with the healthiest coral reefs, says Steneck, a professor of oceanography, marine biology and marine policy based at the Darling Marine Center in Walpole, Maine.

“The Dominican Republic is a remarkably diverse country,” says Steneck. “However, its greatest diversity may lie underwater and out of sight of most people.”

The vibrant reefs, he says, were within sight of the border with Haiti, while reefs adjacent to Punta Cana, the heavily populated easternmost tip of the Dominican Republic, were the most degraded.

About 400 people attended Steneck’s keynote at the conference, which was sponsored by Propagas Foundation. Creative lighting and decorations made the conference room appear to be underwater, he says.

Several media outlets, including El Dia, covered Steneck’s speech (eldia.com.do/experto-revela-deterioro-de-arrecifes). Steneck also was a guest on two radio shows before returning to Maine.

Contact: Beth Staples, 207.581.3777