McDonough MacKenzie receives Smith Conservation Research Fellowship

Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie, a 2016 Schoodic Institute Research Fellow has recently been awarded the prestigious David H. Smith Fellowship. McDonough MacKenzie will begin a new 2-year project in Acadia National Park. To learn more about her research, we invite you to read her post below. Congratulations Caitlin!

Guest Post by Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie

Over the past six years, my Boston winters have been spent planning springs in Maine. I conducted the field work for my PhD in Biology at Acadia National Park from 2011- 2016. And though I am defending my dissertation this spring, I’m happy to report that I’ll be back in Maine as a post-doctoral researcher! I received a David H. Smith Fellowship from the Society of Conservation Biology to work with Dr. Jacquelyn Gill at the University of Maine and Dr. Abe Miller-Rushing at Acadia National Park. My tradition of planning Maine field seasons continues…

As a PhD student, I studied species loss and shifts in spring flowering and leaf out in Northern New England plant communities. I considered some of this to be ‘historical ecology’ work because I combed through archives and pressed plants of herbarium specimens, and decoded the 19th century penmanship of botanists in their field logs to trace changes in the abundance of plant species over the last 125 years. But my Smith Fellowship research proposes some extreme historical ecology. I will be collecting sediment cores from lakes at and above treeline in Maine to track shifts in the relative abundance of pollen associated with alpine and subalpine plant communities over the last 12,000 + years. These sediment cores are ecological archives: pollen and plant fragments preserved in the lake-bottom sediment layers record vegetation changes through time.

The mountain cranberry and three-toothed cinquefoil we recognize today on the open ridges of Acadia represent communities of plants we consider relicts of the tundra vegetation that first colonized post-glacial Maine. Katahdin and the high peaks of the Appalachians support the largest and highest alpine areas in Maine. But, we know very little about the deep history of the plants at tops of these peaks — how did they respond to warming events in the past? Did tree line shift much higher than its current position? Sediment cores from Lakes of the Clouds below the summit of New Hampshire’s Mt. Washington reveal consistent fossil evidence of a subalpine habitat at that site: seeds of three-toothed cinquefoil (a species that loves open habitats), open-ground mosses, and few spruce needles. But what happened in Maine? Filling in these knowledge gaps can help us predict how the mountain communities of Maine will respond to anthropogenic climate change.

Conservation practitioners in Maine are grappling with how to protect alpine and subalpine vegetation in a changing climate. The islands of alpine and subalpine habitat above treeline in Maine are scattered across mountains that are owned and managed by several federal and state agencies and non-government organizations with varying conservation mandates and resource. As a Smith Fellow, I will collect the management positions, policies, and challenges for alpine and subalpine vegetation scattered across federal, state, and other conservation land in Maine and bring together resource managers from across New England to collaborate on conservation planning for the “sky islands” of alpine habitat. Reconstructing the history of tundra habitat on these mountains from pollen cores will provide a new perspective as we work to protect these vulnerable communities in the face of anthropogenic climate change.

Same ecosystem management, different climate – results may vary from the past

A new study published in Restoration Ecology and co-authored by Schoodic Institute Forest Ecology Director, Nick Fisichelli, examines the challenges of ecosystem management under continuously changing conditions and provides a decision-making structure for resisting, accommodating, and directing change. Land managers have sets of trusted approaches to achieve their conservation and resource extraction goals. Changes to ecosystem conditions, such as climate, presence of non-native species, and habitat fragmentation, mean the outcomes of management actions may differ from those of the past.

For example, drought conditions, salt water intrusion in freshwater systems, and dammed rivers are likely to impede management actions aimed at promoting the regeneration of desired native plant species and restoring past ecosystem conditions. Today, managers must assess not only current conditions but also projections of likely future conditions and the types and magnitudes of uncertainties about how the future will play out.

Forward-looking land management processes need to take into account these continuously changing conditions, to develop and reassess strategies and actions that achieve near-term and long-term goals. Changing conditions can mean both challenges and opportunities – some past goals may not make sense for future conditions but new conservation opportunities may arise that were not possible in the past.

Journal article website. Please contact N. Fisichelli for a copy of the article:

Get Your Senior Pass to Acadia National Park!

The National Park Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Senior Pass provides access to more than 2,000 federal recreation sites, including Acadia National Park. The Senior Pass will be on sale at the Gouldsboro and Winter Harbor, Maine town offices, and Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park on select dates in February and March.

The lifetime Senior Pass is currently available for a one-time purchase of $10. The fee will increase to $80 later this year. The Senior Pass is available to U.S. citizens and permanent residents who are 62 years or older. It covers entrance fees and provides discounts on some other recreation fees, such as camping. The Senior Pass admits the pass owner and accompanying passengers in a noncommercial vehicle to Acadia National Park and other recreation sites across the country. Eighty percent of the proceeds are used to improve and enhance visitor services and facilities at Acadia National.

The Senior Pass may be purchased in person with proper photo identification showing date of birth (i.e., state driver’s license, state identification card, U.S. passport, or Permanent Resident Card) on the following dates:

Gouldsboro Town Office, 59 Main Street, Prospect Harbor:

February 16, 12 – 1:30 pm

February 28, 9:30 – 11 am

March 15, 4 – 5:30 pm

March 31, 8:15 – 9:15 am

Winter Harbor Town Office, 20 School Street, Winter Harbor:

February 16, 9:30 – 11 am

February 28, 12 – 1:30 pm

March 15, 2:30 – 3:30 pm

March 31, 10 – 11 am

Schoodic Institute (Schooner Commons), Schoodic Education and Research Center, Acadia National Park:

February 11, 11 am – 1 pm

Entrance passes are also available for purchase at the Acadia National Park Headquarters visitor center in Bar Harbor (please call 207-288- 3338 for office hours and directions).

Beautiful and Busy: An Intern’s Look at Schoodic Institute in January

Guest Blog by Chelsea Alley

It’s easy to forget how beautiful the Schoodic Peninsula is when you see it every day. And while slogging through routine it’s also easy to forget the life that seems to pulse through this area of Maine. I took a walk around Schoodic Institute’s campus at the beginning of the month, trying to catch a glimpse of a red breasted nuthatch, and was amazed how alive everything felt, even in the dead of winter. The trees creaked in the wind, and the waves crashed on the shore just out of sight, and I was taunted by the elusive nuthatches calling to each other from the tops of trees far above my head. Many think that when summer ends Acadia goes to sleep, but that is simply untrue, and my view of this was reinforced when I joined the hubbub of Schoodic Institute.

I was privileged to have the time and opportunity to intern at Schoodic Institute for the month of January: participating in the various experiences, research, and activities that go on even in the quiet months of winter. In my time here, I learned about bird and forest ecology, worked with Hannah Webber and the Sumner Pathways Program’s project on rockweed, saw a presentation highlighting the unique partnership between Schoodic Institute and Acadia National Park, attended a Brown Bag lecture on the migrations of three different, yet connected species, and learned about the importance of science communication in a place where research, education, and citizen science happen hand-in-hand, year-round.

Something I think is wonderful about Schoodic Institute is the dedication not only to “pure,” isolated research, but also to research involving citizen scientists and community members, and educating about research and scientific inquiry. The people at Schoodic Institute are always searching for, and finding, ways to connect the research done there with an outside audience, creating education opportunities, providing a place for others to conduct research, and working in partnership with other institutions.

This drive to connect makes Schoodic Institute even more than just a beautiful research site. I’ve learned that you can’t make people care about everything, but if you can engage people in the work, showing them why they should care about something, they might.  Schoodic Institute is an ideal location for research, citizen science, and for showing people why learning about the environment and climate change is important, even in January.

Chelsea Alley is a second-year Environmental Studies student at Hollins University, and a life-long resident of Winter Harbor. She is an intern at Schoodic Institute for the month of January working in science communications.

Trees Stand to Teach More on Climate Change

Guest Blog by Chelsea Alley

It is very difficult to hammer a nail straight into a tree when the tree is frozen. And when you’ve been standing in the snow for three hours without gloves, your hands are stiff and uncooperative. This could go without saying, but as this isn’t a common situation, one doesn’t have to think about it often. However, I found myself observing this scene when I joined Nick Fisichelli and his interns in the forest, tagging trees for observation.

If you’ve ever spent time in the forests of coastal Maine, then you’ve seen how they differ from forests composed of older and larger trees. These trees are younger, often clumped together or spread very far apart, hardy, and in some places grip to the rocks and soil as if holding on for dear life. You may have also noticed, if you have seen these forests for a long time, or again after some time, that they are forever changing. One of the goals of the Forest Ecology Program at Schoodic Institute is to understand how the tree species in these forests change through time, and how they are reacting to changing climate conditions.

Nick is setting up a system of forest plots in and around Schoodic Institute’s campus to track forest dynamics, and it is in one of these plots that I joined him, and two students from Colby College who were also interns during January. We spent several hours in the plot, 20 meters (65 feet) in diameter, identifying, measuring, and tagging every living and dead tree for continued observation. This type of work seems very menial and unimportant when standing outside in below-freezing temperatures, but taking a step back brings everything in the big picture into focus.

Because some aspects of forests change very slowly, and others may change week to week (such as saplings during growing season), it’s important to set up a variety of experiments where data can be collected whenever is necessary. The data for the plot I worked in might not be collected again for several years, but by examining changes through time, we can come to understand the occurring changes and the implications they may have.

I love forests: the quiet that always seems to blanket a forest no matter the season, the way sun filters through to the ground, the wildlife that flit between roots, stems, and branches, and how this coast is covered with trees of various shapes, species, and sizes. Romanticism aside, however, forests are a fundamental part of the landscape of Acadia and of Maine. We reap a variety of benefits from our forests, and the research being done here will help us all understand how to best manage the landscape in order for it to continue to thrive economically, aesthetically, and in my opinion most importantly, naturally throughout changing economy and environment. I look forward to seeing the future of Nick’s Forest Ecology Program, and participating in any citizen science projects that might become available…as long as they’re in warmer weather.

Chelsea Alley is a second-year Environmental Studies student at Hollins University, and a life-long resident of Winter Harbor. She is an intern at Schoodic Institute for the month of January working in science communications.

Getting a Birds-eye-view of Climate Change

Guest Blog by Chelsea Alley

I am, and always have been, an argumentative person. Recently, more than I’d like, I am arguing over climate change. As an environmental studies major, I believe that climate change should be researched, but I interact with a lot of people who don’t even believe that climate change is real. Because I want to convince these people that I am right —in this case, about climate change—I am always looking for reasons climate change deniers should care about, or believe in, climate change. My experiences with Seth Benz’ work with bird ecology programs gave me a couple reasons.


Preparing to go out into the cold and the wind in order to survey birds off the Schoodic Peninsula, I was doing all I could to convince myself that birds were an interesting topic of study. Coming back in after four hours observing the birds and hearing about Seth’s passion for the work he does, I found it a bit easier to do so. Birds are interesting, and even more than that: they are important in climate change research. Seth brought two other interns and myself around the Schoodic Loop Road to perform a practice survey of sea birds, counting how many of what species we spotted on our stops. Along the way, Seth explained why it is important to do such monitoring year-round.

The patterns that birds follow through their lifespans, including breeding and migration, act as early warning systems for environmental change. Studying these patterns adds to a larger perspective on climate change, and what the future environment might look like. Because the environment is changing rapidly, the year-round studies of different bird species and behaviors help scientists understand how changes are affecting the life cycles of these birds and the species they rely on, such as those they feed upon: plant, insect, and fish species included. When the life cycles of food sources do not line up with the life cycles of the birds, these birds are left without food, and breeding outcomes and migration may change as a result. These irregular cycles can warn humans about changing farming and fishing timelines, and about changes in animal species in the region.

From the data researchers have been gathering, it is undeniable that changes are happening to the climate: birds are changing migration and breeding patterns, and are wintering in places farther north than have been recorded historically. Over the past 60 years, there has been a 50% decrease in bird populations  in North America (, and as of 2013, one third of North American bird species faced extinction (Audubon, 2013)2. We know this because researchers are conducting surveys, like those done by Seth and the citizen scientists he works with, counting and observing birds and their behaviors. Because research like this is happening, models now exist detailing how bird populations have been changing, giving information needed to make predictions about how the climate might change in the future.

Seth’s drive to understand the interactions between the natural world and humanity is inspiring. One message of his that stood out to me was that studying climate change for the sake of animals is as important as studying climate change for the sake of humans. This isn’t a message I’ve heard often in climate change discussions, but I believe that it is vitally true, and it’s a point I will be sure to use the next time I have to argue about the importance of climate change research.

1.   North American Bird Conservation Initiative 2016. The State of North America’s Birds 2016, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Ottawa, Ontario.

2.   Cirino, E. (2013). Thirty Percent of North American Bird Species Face Decline Across Seasons. Audubon.

Chelsea Alley is a second-year Environmental Studies student at Hollins University, and a life-long resident of Winter Harbor. She is an intern at Schoodic Institute for the month of January working in Science Communications.


Acadia Winter Festival Registration Open

Find Your Winter! The third annual Acadia Winter Festival presented by Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park, February 10 -12, 2017, offers fun, educational and hands-on activities to encourage adults, kids, and the community to connect and explore the natural world in winter. This year’s programs offer something for everyone!

The festival kicks off at 2:00 PM on Friday, February 10 at Schoodic Woods in Acadia with cross country skiing. Acadia National Park Superintendent Kevin Schneider joins Institute President and CEO Mark Berry as they lead a group of skiers through some of the newest park trails. Should snow not make an appearance, the event will change to a winter hike – with views not seen in the warmer months.

Round out the afternoon at 4:00 PM with an artist reception for Judy Taylor, winner of the AWF 2017 poster contest. Stay for a delicious dinner on the Institute campus of Baked Haddock Au Gratin, then enjoy Todd Little-Siebold’s presentation: ‘Water Froze on the Nightstand Overnight’ -The History of Being Cold in Maine.

Additional weekend activities include Cooking in an Outdoor Dutch Oven, Leave No Trace Scavenger Hunt, Build A Quinzhee Hut, Winter Birding and Brunch, Maine Lumberjack Demo, lectures, ice cream social, Dog search and Rescue and more! Hearty meals and convenient, comfortable lodging are also available.

Schoodic Institute concludes the weekend with a free viewing of the film, The Great Alone – the award-winning film of champion sled dog racer, Lance Mackay.

Visit HERE to learn more and register for Schoodic Institute meals and some programs.

Local High School Students Assist Schoodic Institute Researchers

Students from Sumner Memorial High School’s Pathways program are taking their science lessons from trees and seaweed while helping researchers from Schoodic Institute.

With help from the Davis Family Foundation and Maine Timberlands Charitable Trust grants, a research and education partnership between Schoodic and Pathways has students working in the field with forest ecologist, Nick Fisichelli, and intertidal specialist, Hannah Webber. For the rest of the school year the students will meet weekly with their researcher and head into the field to collect data or into the classroom to analyze results.

For students working with Fisichelli that means heading for the trees.

“Trees are long lived and thus forests can seem to be static, unchanging places,” says Fisichelli. “However, forests do change and looking in the right places at the right times can yield insights into forest dynamics. The work the Pathways students are doing with me will give us clues to how local forests may look in the future.” Students working with Fisichelli identify tree species and measure the size, abundance, growth, and survival of trees within Frenchman Bay Conservancy’s Baker Hill Preserve near the High School.

Summer Pathways forest group assessing tree seedlings and sapling in a forest canopy gap at Frenchman Bay Conservancy’s Baker Hill Preserve. Schoodic Institute photo

Sumner Memorial High School teacher Walter Crabtree explained that Pathways is an alternative education program that provides each student with a unique learning plan. “These kids require hands-on learning,” Crabtree said, “and coming to [Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park] on Thursdays does that.” Crabtree added, “While the students in the marine science class will likely follow a marine trade, my students [working with Nick Fisichelli] probably won’t pursue a forestry path, but are able to fulfill important science requirements outside of a traditional classroom.”

For the rest of the Pathways students involved research means heading into the intertidal zone. “We’re looking at microscopic animals that live on rockweed, and how the community of those animals changes through the year, and year to year,” says Webber. “The intertidal, the rockweed zone in particular, is a critical habitat for a number of commercially important animals. By studying changes in prey species for those larger animals we’re filling in the rockweed food web picture.”

Scylvia Touponce records data on rockweed growth rate as part of the rockweed community ecology study. Schoodic Institute photo

Webber continues, “It’s excellent working with the students because they are not only good workers but they are also very bright, very curious, and first-rate problem solvers. And it’s exciting to work with them in research in what’s really their front yard.”

“I have 14 students [working with Hannah Webber],” said Sumner Industrial Arts teacher Steve Belyea, “and 10 of them are lobster fishing. One of the great things about coming to Schoodic Institute is to find out what science is and how to relate it to what they do…our students need something they can connect to.”

As both forest and intertidal groups of students collect data for researchers to analyze they are also collecting data that they will analyze, think about, and present as their own in the spring. The data being collected can help answer a lot of research questions. The Pathways-Schoodic project will culminate in the spring in student research presentations. “Science is not only observing and then collecting a lot of data, it’s also interpreting and sharing the story of the data and what the data tell us. The students are already collecting and analyzing their data, they will be telling all of us what their data mean in May,” says Webber.

The collaboration with Sumner’s Pathways program is part of a larger program at Schoodic Institute that studies how work with scientists on real research questions can help students become more interested in science while developing useful science skills. Bill Zoellick, Schoodic Institute’s Education Research Director leads the Pathways collaboration as well as the larger research effort. He says, “We meet many students who have gotten the idea that science is not for them. But when these students get out in the field to help a scientist collect data or samples, they discover that it is creative, interesting work and, more important, it is work that they can do. We would like to get more students thinking, ‘Hey, I could see myself doing this, and I could be doing it here where I live.’ That’s the goal. Part of our job at Schoodic Institute is to figure out how to make this kind of learning a bigger part of how science is taught for all students, but especially for those students who are not connecting with science in traditional classroom settings.”

Acadia Winter Festival Poster Contest Winner Announced

The Schoodic Institute – Acadia Winter Festival committee is pleased to announce that Judy Taylor of Seal Cove, Maine has been chosen as the winner of the 2017 Acadia Winter Festival poster contest.

The goal of the Acadia Winter Festival is to encourage adults, children and families to connect and explore the natural world in winter. Ms. Taylor’s oil painting entitled “The Skaters” is a delightful representation of this.

“The Skaters” ~ Oil by Judy Taylor

Taylorʼs work consists of figurative and narrative paintings, labor-focused work, landscapes and portraiture. Her scenes of workers and nature found on Mount Desert Island often incorporate island residents as models. Prior to coming to Maine Taylor lived in New York City, transferring there from Chicago to study figurative art. She was accepted into New York Academy of Art on full scholarship and received her Masters certificate in their pilot program. She went on to study painting at the National Academy of Design with Harvey Dinnerstein and Ron Sherr.

In 1996 she relocated to Maine and was an Artist-in- Residence at Acadia National Park. Since 2002 she has resided full time in Maine where she maintains her studio and teaches there and at workshops in Austin, New York, Italy and France. In 2007 she was awarded the commission to paint the History of Labor in Maine which took a full year to complete. Her work is in many public and private collections including: Johns Hopkins University, the United States Park System, Friends of Acadia, and the Jackson Laboratory.

Congratulations to Judy Taylor, and a special thank you to all participants for their time and support of Schoodic Institute.

Black-capped Chickadees Lead the 2016 Bird-Banding Effort

Visitors to Schoodic Point this fall, if attuned to bird sounds, were greeted by the familiar calls of two of our most recognizable birds. “Chick-a- dee-dee- dee” and “Yank – yank – yank”– the respective calls of the Black-capped Chickadee and Red-breasted Nuthatch.



Hardly a minute of silence would pass before one or the other or both of these species would sound off, giving away their locations amidst the bordering trees. You could find the nasal-voiced nuthatch near the tops of the green, spire-pointed spruce trees, while the chickadee was found generally lower down, from mid-canopy to the ground. These different foraging locations apparently point to a disparity in the number of each species caught in our three-meter high bird-banding mist-nets. Despite the near equal abundance of each species (as documented by semiweekly visual surveys) along Alder and Sundew trails, Black-capped Chickadees – the lower-foraging, insect-seeking species – were captured at a rate 5 times greater than the higher foraging, cone-seeking Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Overall, this fall’s bird banding effort spanned a two-month timeframe (Aug.18 through Oct. 14), accumulated over 2,600 net-hours, captured 58 separate species and 1,428 total birds.

The following list depicts the number of the top 10 species that were captured:

386 Black-capped Chickadee

137 Yellow-rumped Warbler

121 White-throated Sparrow

88 Golden-crowned Kinglet

71 Red-breasted Nuthatch

58 Dark-eyed Junco

50 Common Yellowthroat

46 Hermit Thrush

40 Blackpoll Warbler

38 Black-throated Green Warbler