Celebrating Citizen Science Day

Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park is offering three separate training opportunities for studying birds, seasonal change, and biodiversity in celebration of Citizen Science Day, a national event to highlight incredible discoveries made by volunteers of all ages.

The programs are an opportunity to participate in science while advancing research and monitoring of Acadia’s plants and animals.

All workshops feature indoor classroom and outdoor field sessions. The trainings are free, with an option to purchase lunch, but registration is required

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife launched the Maine Bird Atlas in 2018 to document the birds that call Maine home during the summer and winter months. Participants in this in-depth training will learn how to contribute observations to the Atlas in preparation for the upcoming breeding season. It will involve an overview of the project, including background and objectives, explain various ways to participate, and take a hands-on look at how to use eBird (the database for collecting Maine Bird Atlas sightings).

A second training workshop is being offered by the University of Maine Cooperative Extension and Maine Sea Grant Signs of the Seasons program, which is helping scientists document the local effects of global climate change. Participants are trained to observe and record the phenology (seasonal changes) of common plants and animals living in their own communities — a citizen science project that fills a gap in regional climate research. Volunteers across New England record the growth of milkweed, the nesting of robins, and more. “The goal is to build a rich, detailed record of the region’s seasonal turns, a resource too costly to build without a network of citizen volunteers,” said Signs of the Seasons coordinator Elisabeth Maxwell.

The third training opportunity is about how to document biodiversity with iNaturalist, a mobile application and social network created by National Geographic and the California Academy of Sciences to catalog and track the biodiversity of the world. “Participants take photos of plants, animals, fungi, etc., or signs of organisms like scat, bones, or feathers, and upload the image along with date and location, providing a record of a species in a place and time,” said Libby Orcutt of Schoodic Institute. With 16,135,181 observations made to date, iNaturalist is helping researchers study biodiversity over time across the globe.

Schoodic Institute works with the National Park Service and other partners to provide citizen science opportunities in Acadia National Park, other public lands, backyards, and also regionally, nationally, and internationally. Schoodic Institute was one of the founders of the Citizen Science Association, the host organization for Citizen Science Day.

For more information, see https://www.schoodicinstitute.org/event/citizen-science-day/


Sumner Memorial High School students to present to shellfish committee in Gouldsboro March 20

Over the past year, Schoodic Institute worked closely with Sumner Memorial High School’s Pathways Program and with the town of Gouldsboro to support the town’s shellfish committee. The students received support from Mike Pinkham, Gouldsboro’s clam warden, Bill Zoellick, Schoodic Institute’s Education Research Director, and Kyle Pepperman, field scientist at the Downeast Institute. They gathered and analyzed experimental data that the shellfish committee will use to make decisions about seeding clam flats during 2019. The students will be presenting their analysis to the shellfish committee at the Gouldsboro Community Center on Pond Road at 6 PM on Wednesday, March 20.

A hike along Acadia’s trails shows that Spring arrives early for some plants

Plants in Acadia National Park follow the spring. With each degree of temperature increase, plants bloom two to six days ahead of those in cooler locations

Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie, lead author of the study, published today in the journal Ecosphere, said it’s not surprising to see plants shifting their leaf out and flowering with spring temperatures. “We see this over and over again in other places and other species,” she said. What was surprising was that these findings are the result of an innovative data collection method.

Typically, studies of climate change rely on comparisons to historic observations from long-term data sets or old field notebooks like those of Henry David Thoreau, which have been used for other studies by McDonough MacKenzie and her co-authors, Abraham Miller-Rushing and Richard Primack. National Park Service managers wanted to identify potentially vulnerable plants in Acadia, but the park didn’t have decades of flowering and leaf-out observations. Such records are rare, and the scientists wanted to find a faster, easier way to track plant phenology. Could the range of temperatures on the mountainsides of Acadia National Park, which rise from sea level and reach heights over one thousand feet, serve as a substitute for early or later springs?

Using hiking trails as monitoring “transects,”  McDonough MacKenzie hiked three mountains (Cadillac, Pemetic, and Sargent) in Acadia repeatedly over four years. She and her field assistants recorded over 20,000 observations of temperature, flowering, and “leaf out” for thirty different plant species that grow at all elevations, such as lowbush blueberry, bunchberry, and starflower.

They found plants blooming earlier in locations that warmed up quickly in the spring.

“It’s not as simple as the bottom of the mountain leafs out, and then spring evenly spreads uphill,” she said. “Sometimes high elevation sites or northern-facing sites have warmer temperatures. Wherever they are in any given year, the warmest sites are most likely to see the first leaf out and flowering.”

The timing of leaf out and flowering is tied to interactions like herbivory and pollination, and influences management actions, including invasive species control. Other studies have shown that a plant’s ability to track spring temperatures and advance flowering in warmer years is correlated with population persistence, while plants that do not track spring temperatures are more likely to decline in abundance. Most of the species the team studied tracked changes in temperature, but starflower did not, suggesting that it may be vulnerable to future changes in climate in Acadia.

“Most protected areas don’t have long-term data, but this trails-as-transects approach could generate the necessary data in just a few years,” said Miller-Rushing, Science Coordinator for Acadia National Park.

According to Primack, professor at Boston University, the use of trails and environmental gradients can efficiently collect data that scientists and managers need, and they designed the study to follow popular trails, so that volunteer citizen scientists—hikers—could continue observing flowering and leaf out. Their results suggest the potential power of data collected by volunteers, such as those visiting the Downeast Phenology Trail coordinated by Schoodic Institute.

Ultimately, McDonough MacKenzie and her coauthors think their intensive monitoring—hiking the same trails over and over again—can be replicated in Acadia and other protected areas with environmental gradients to quickly build robust datasets for land managers.

Caitlin McDonough MacKenzie conducted this research as a 2016 Schoodic Institute Research Fellow and doctoral student at Boston University. She is now a David H. Smith Conservation Research Fellow at the University of Maine.

The nuts and bolts of monitoring ocean conditions

On a sunny Friday in February, Marine Ecology Program Director Hannah Webber sent an automatic water monitoring instrument (SeapHOx) out to a site off Schoodic Island for a third year of measuring acidity and other water quality parameters, in collaboration with Acadia National Park.

After Webber screwed the sensors and housing back together, “Diver Ed” and his crew transported the SeapHOx to the site, where Ed donned his cold-water SCUBA gear and bolted the instrument’s metal frame to a granite block 40 feet below the surface.

Ocean acidification, and its potential to harm shellfish and other marine organisms, is a major concern among marine ecologists and coastal communities. But until a few years ago no one had any data on acidity in the Gulf of Maine. The Schoodic Island site is now part of a network of monitoring sites. The autonomous sensor continuously measures ocean pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen, and conductivity (or salinity); the data will be collected when the SeapHOx is retrieved from the water at the end of the year.

Located at the edge of the Eastern Maine Coastal Current, the Schoodic Island site could provide an indication of the chemistry of water coming into the Gulf of Maine from the Northwest Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

The pH measurements from the last two years vary widely, which is to be expected according to Joe Salisbury, a professor at University of New Hampshire and one of Webber’s collaborating scientists. Only after multiple years of data will researchers be able to identify any trends. In the meantime, the SeapHOx is sampling away beneath the surface, recording data on the changing conditions of the ocean that surrounds Acadia.

Hannah Webber waves as the SeapHOx leaves Northeast Harbor.
Hannah Webber waves as the SeapHOx leaves Northeast Harbor.

Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park Announces New Board Members

Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park recently elected two members to its Board of Directors; Trina Wellman of Seattle, Washington, and Steve Myers of Dallas, Texas.

“Dr. Trina Wellman and Steve Myers strengthen an already strong, talented, and engaged Board that enables Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park’s pursuit of collaborative solutions to critical environmental challenges through discovery and learning,” said Schoodic Institute President and CEO Don Kent. “Trina, a natural resource economist, is an expert in ecosystem goods and services, and applying science in community settings. Initially a biologist, Steve became an applied computer technologist. His analytical skills and entrepreneurial experience will enhance the Schoodic Institute’s organizational efficiency, including our communication and marketing.”

Dr. Wellman grew up in Maine and attended Brown University and later earned a Master in Marine Affairs and PhD in Natural Resource Economics from the University of Washington.  She has worked at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Battelle Memorial Institute, and most recently, Northern Economics Inc., conducting applied research on a myriad of subjects including the valuation of marine ecosystem goods and services, benefits and costs of shellfish aquaculture, the economics of marine ecosystem restoration, and development of conceptual models of the human dimension of ecosystem service recovery and related indicators of human wellbeing.

“I am so excited to be able to work with the Schoodic Institute and make a contribution to the people, communities and marine ecosystem health of Downeast Maine,” said Dr. Wellman.  “Schoodic Institute represents a cross section of all my professional and personal interests and I hope that my background and experiences will lend themselves to its continued growth and achievement of its goals.”

Dr. Wellman currently serves on the Puget Sound Partnership Science Panel, the Task Force on Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery, and The SeaDoc Society Science Advisory Board. She is also the current President of the Board of Salish Sea Expedition (an at sea,  hands on marine science education program for middle and high school students in Puget Sound) and Commodore of the Sorrento Maine Yacht Club. Dr. Wellman has two daughters (Amelia and Caroline who have summered in Sorrento, Maine their entire lives) and enjoys sailing, paddle boarding, gardening, running, tennis, watercolor painting, and traveling with friends and family.

Steve Myers grew up in an Illinois town in an agricultural area near the Mississippi River and attended Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he earned an undergraduate degree in Biology.

Upon graduation from MIT, he joined the suburban Boston firm Epsilon.  Later Steve teamed with the former President of Epsilon to help found Brierley + Partners, a loyalty management consultancy and direct response marketing agency where he served as Senior Vice President.  In 2000 Brierley + Partners spun off Research Now, a start-up in the online market research space. Steve served as Senior Vice President, Operations, and later Senior Vice President, Panel Management.

Steve’s volunteer experience includes coaching youth sports,  board service for a competitive soccer league, Boy Scouts, and a hospital Institutional Review Board.  He is retired, lives in Dallas Texas, and looks forward to celebrating his 42nd anniversary with wife Betsy in 2019.  Steve and Betsy have visited Winter Harbor, Maine their entire married lives, and recently purchased a home in the area.   Steve and Betsy enjoy cooking, hiking, golf, travel, and sharing the spectacular Winter Harbor scenery with their children and grandchildren.

2019 Public Program and Lectures Scheduled

Schoodic Institute offers programs and lectures free to the public from the Institute campus in Acadia National Park. The 2019 schedule of Brown Bag lunches and evening lectures is now available.

Brown Bag lunches occur on the third Thursday of every month. Guests are invited to bring their lunch for the one hour presentation. Topics vary and some offer guest participation. No registration is ever required, and unless noted otherwise, take place in Moore Auditorium from 12 noon until 1:00 PM.

Evening lectures are held on the second Tuesday of the month beginning in May. Like the Brown Bag lunches these free lectures range in a variety of topics related to science, research and the natural environment. Lectures take place in Moore Auditorium at 7:00 in the evening and generally run for one hour – Registration is never needed.

Visit the Institute website at any time to view all programs and events at www.schoodicinstitute.org/events/ . Please check back frequently – New programs with opportunities to participant in learning are added often.

Dr. Fisichelli named Director of Science and Education

Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Nicholas Fisichelli as Director of Science and Education. In this new role at Schoodic Institute, Fisichelli will provide leadership to the Schoodic Institute Science and Education Team.

“Dr. Nicholas Fisichelli’s promotion to Director of Science and Education illustrates Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park’s commitment to pursuing collaborative solutions to critical environmental challenges through discovery and learning,” said Schoodic Institute President and CEO Don Kent. “Nick will be the Institute’s science and education champion, providing leadership to other staff, and partnering with others to ensure that our boundary-crossing approach produces healthy and prosperous communities.”

Nick will continue in his current role as forest ecologist examining natural resource dynamics in a continuously changing world. He focuses on ecosystem dynamics and land management challenges through scientific understanding, education efforts, and stewardship guidance developed concurrently, iteratively, and collaboratively in diverse partnerships. Prior to coming to the Schoodic Institute, he worked for the National Park Service Climate Change Response Program developing and applying management-relevant science, including global change impacts to forests, plant and wildlife species, protected area operations, and visitor experience. He was a Fulbright Fellow in Germany and earned his Ph.D. in forest ecology from the University of Minnesota in 2012. He also previously worked at Shenandoah National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Schoodic Institute Education Research: A New Take on Teacher Leadership

By Catherine Schmitt, Science Communication Specialist


Over the course of his work with schools, teachers, and communities to engage students in locally relevant science, Schoodic Institute Education Research Director Bill Zoellick realized the importance of teacher leaders as partners who can amplify the work of Schoodic Institute is doing and make it sustainable. Teachers can influence other teachers and school decisions, change instructional practices, and affect state and national education policies. This kind of leadership is necessary to ensure that all students have access to locally relevant science learning opportunities. 

Research on teacher leadership provides guidance to these efforts, ensuring successful programs and positive impacts on students. But education researchers have different definitions of “teacher leadership.” Zoellick and Jill Harrison Berg set out to clarify terms and create a framework to advance the field of education science. They hosted discussions among some 70 participants in the American Educational Research Association’s Teacher Leadership Congress, and mapped and analyzed the ideas and common themes. They identified four key dimensions of teacher leadership (legitimacy, support, objectives, and methods). This last month, the results were published in the Journal of Professional Capital and Community.

“We hope this framework helps researchers and practitioners avoid talking past each other when they share new thinking about ‘teacher leadership,’ said Zoellick. “Jill and I hope that our work will improve our ability to improve support for teacher leaders, which, in turn, is all about improving what schools can provide to students.”

Read the full article.

Learn more about Schoodic Institute’s work with students and teachers.




Fifty years of counting birds on New Year’s Day

By Catherine Schmitt, Science Communication Specialist

Two-thousand nineteen dawned gray and windy, after an overnight storm of snow, sleet and rain. At nine a.m. it was raining and 39 degrees at Schoodic Point. Northeast winds piled crashing pale-green waves against the rocks, throwing mist and spindrift into the air. In places the shore was covered with foam.

The raw conditions did not deter a handful of visitors from searching for birds as part of the Christmas Bird Count at Schoodic Point. Volunteers have been conducting the annual survey here for fifty years straight, and a bit of wind and spray would not deter them. Will Russell came all the way from Arizona to participate, after counting birds there and in North Carolina and Virginia. “I did the Schoodic count once before, perhaps 40 years ago,” he said. “It was a pleasure to return, especially on such a wild and atmospheric day.”

The Schoodic count is one of around thirty in the state. Between December 14 and January 5, volunteers across the country document every bird they see in a given area during a set period of time, contributing their data to the National Audubon Society. The idea started in 1900, when Frank Chapman, concerned as many were about declining bird populations, started a census as an alternative to the holiday tradition known as the Christmas “Side Hunt,” when teams of hunters would compete to see who could shoot the most birds, according to the Audubon Society.

The census retains a sense of friendly competition. The first day of January is a big day for birders, a time to jump-start one’s “list” for the year. For Schoodic Institute’s Bird Ecology Program Director Seth Benz, the first day’s birds are a portent of the year to come.

The 25 observers, coordinated by Benz, knew the raw conditions would actually make for pretty good coastal birding. The winds that sent thundering breakers rolling toward shore also pushed birds that normally stay offshore closer to the coast. Kittiwakes cruised through the troughs between wave crests. Razorbills and gannets seemed unfazed by the turbulence. It was, in a word, “spectacular,” said Benz. The lighting, too, with an overcast sky and pale green sea, made a good background for detecting birds: great cormorant, red-throated loon, common loons, black-backed, herring, and Iceland gulls. The most surprising were three dovekie, the smallest and rarest members of the alcid family on the East Coast.

View the 62 species and one “cw” species (Count Week which means it was not seen on count day but was within the allotted timeframe to be on an honorable mention list for the week) HERE.

Will went over to check Blueberry Hill, while Benz and volunteer David Manski checked the cove between the point and Big Moose Island. Two bald eagles flew overhead. Out on the roaring sea, more loons, and long-tailed ducks, goldeneyes, guillemots, buffleheads, scoters. Russell, who founded the international bird tour company WINGS, used to live in Seal Harbor and is writing a book about the birds of Acadia National Park. “I traveled here in part because I have a life-long love affair with this part of the Maine Coast.” And, for the book, he needed to update his sense of winter bird distribution.

“The count gives us a snapshot of the wintering birds across the United States,” explained Benz. “If we are consistent with the date, we can compare data over time.” For example, reports from other count circles indicate that overall numbers of land birds–goldfinch and sparrows, in particular–were few and far between this year. “Our day counting at Schoodic certainly substantiates that claim,” said Benz.

The sun began to break through a seam in the clouds, and Benz and Manski walked the Schoodic Institute campus to look for forest birds, finding only a few stray chickadees, an immature bald eagle, and crows. Later in the day, large flocks of pine grosbeaks swept through the count area. Will Russell was back at the point, scanning the waves.

The ritual has become a tradition that many participants look forward to, with community gatherings and celebrations, camaraderie in sharing time out-of-doors, in winter, to witness and wonder at the living world.




Sierra Magazine Reports on Schoodic Institute Forest Research


“We are working with forests at Schoodic Institute to understand how climate change will affect trees, and what measures we can take to foster healthy forests in the future,” said Schoodic Institute’s Director of Science, Dr. Nick Fisichelli in response to a recent story by Madeline Ostrander of Sierra Magazine.

The article published this month in the national magazine of the Sierra Club sites efforts of researchers and scientists like Fisichelli, who are studying plots of trees on the Schoodic Institute campus in Acadia National Park and other park locations. Plots consist of wild seed, while others are full of seedlings from nursery stock. Collectively, the plots are part of a radical experiment: a wide-ranging search for trees that will be able to sprout and or survive in this national park decades from now—when things get hotter, drier, and much more uncertain.

Read the full story HERE.