Science Research Focus Areas

Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park partners with the National Park Service on science initiatives throughout the Park and the region.  The Institute is a regional and community catalyst for ecosystem research, conservation training, and education.

Scientists, educators, and citizen scientists of all ages collaborate on the ambitious vision of a better understanding of the biodiversity and resources of all of Acadia National Park and its environs and of investigating national and global environmental issues.

“Understanding and learning how best to respond to rapid environmental change is the top science priority for Acadia National Park” – Abe Miller-Rushing, Science Coordinator, Acadia National Park

A host of academic and institutional partners cooperate closely with the Institute. Natural resource managers at Acadia National Park rely on the research to restore Acadia’s ecosystems and improve their resiliency in the face of challenging environmental changes.

Bird Ecology

Schoodic Institute’s efforts to understand bird ecology and avian conservation, a priority of Acadia National Park, highlight the power of integrating professional research, citizen science, and education in the Park. The Acadia region provides critical stopover habitat for the many bird species whose migration is heavily concentrated in the Gulf of Maine. Understanding how bird populations use this area is vital for effectively managing stopover habitats and protected lands, including the land of the National Park, and for guiding responsible development on shore and, in regard to wind power, off the coast. The research that Schoodic Institute is leading and facilitating is helping expand knowledge of how migratory birds move through the Gulf of Maine and use its habitats, how they are responding to changes in the environment, and how threats to their survival may be minimized.  Just as importantly, Schoodic Institute is cultivating a community of people that actively participates in the science, helping them to learn skills, make connections, and be inspired in transformational ways that would not happen without engaging in hands-on science.

Acadia has long been an ideal location for bird research and bird-related tourism because of its being a protected landscape on a major migratory corridor. Its forests, islands, and waters are a hotspot for bird diversity in the region. Millions of birds pass through the Park each year. Acadia hosts as many or more warbler species as any national park in the country. Decades before the term “citizen scientist” came into use, amateur birders at Acadia were recording their observations. As a result, Acadia National Park possesses a wealth of invaluable historical records that are like gold to researchers and Park managers who are trying to understand and preserve these species.

Traditional science, conservation, and education programs will not be enough to address the threats birds face. Schoodic Institute brings together scientists, resource managers, and educators who are working together to develop new approaches to monitoring, research, and education and to seamlessly integrate science and education through citizen science. The Institute is working with strong partners such as the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a world leader in bird ecology and citizen science, to pioneer new approaches to the study and conservation of birds.  An on-going Schoodic Institute partnership project led by the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and in collaboration with the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the University of Maine at Orono, and Acadia University in Nova Scotia, is tracking songbird movements through radio telemetry, acoustic monitoring, volunteer citizen science observations, sampling and chemically analyzing blood and feathers, collecting vegetation samples at migratory stopover points, and modeling bird responses to changing weather and climate conditions. Together we are answering pressing research questions, inspiring children and adults, and providing vital information about birds to managers of land and aquatic natural resources.

One of the fastest growing segments of environmental research, birding is also one of the most rapidly expanding outdoor recreational activities.

Forest Ecology

Acadia National Park forests are a national treasure. Standing at the transition from southern hardwood forests to northern coniferous forests, they contain unusual and globally rare natural communities, such as stands of jack pine and crowberry. They are also rich in biodiversity, possessing forty-one percent of the species found in the entire state of Maine.

Schoodic Institute is helping to improve the management of forests in Acadia and throughout the region, to restore natural resilience to rapid changes taking place (changes like invasive species, disease, pollution, and climate change), and to engage communities, citizen scientists, teachers, and youth in studying changes, their causes and consequences.

The forests we see in Acadia today are not the same forests that the Park’s founders saw and worked to preserve. Over 200 species (about one-in-five) that occurred in the Park 120 years ago no longer occur here. About one quarter of the plant species in the Park are not native to the region. The forest wildlife is changing too; some species have disappeared while others have newly arrived.

The resource management staff at Acadia National Park has begun the huge task of restoring the natural resilience of Acadia’s forests to environmental changes taking place all around us. We cannot prevent the forests from changing, but we can help manage the changes to preserve much of the forest’s biodiversity and ecological integrity. The Park has begun its efforts by removing invasive species and restoring fish passages, projects that will improve the ability of native plants and fish to withstand and adapt to changes in the Park’s climate that have already begun.

The Park is now working with Schoodic Institute to build a research effort that will anticipate what is needed to keep Acadia wild and beautiful. This research will address Park priorities, such as invasive plants and insects, disease outbreaks, air and water pollution, and climate change, as well as related issues such as carbon sequestration, ecosystem services provided by forests and wetlands, wetland ecology, forest wildlife and migratory species, and the relationship between human uses of forests and forest health.

Forest-related research at Schoodic Institute has been underway for some time and will continue to expand in the future. Recent examples illustrate roles that the Institute has already played in such research. Over the past two years the Institute has funded and collaborated on research investigating the causes of decline in Acadia’s flora.

The Institute has begun citizen science programs to engage local communities, teachers, and youth in real forest research. Their involvement will improve the quality of the research by collecting additional data and contributing local knowledge that might not be available to professional researchers. Equally important, increasing public understanding of forest ecological processes and sustainable management of forests should increase public support for proper forest management. Through including education related to proper forest management in its local school programs, the Institute will help foster better long term local forest stewardship.

Fresh Water and Ocean Ecology

Fresh, brackish, and salt waters are among the most vital and vulnerable components of the Acadia National Park region’s natural resources. Schoodic Institute works on understanding and protecting Acadia’s waters—from rainfall to changes in ocean chemistry, fisheries, and sea bird habitats. These changes increasingly affect both near-shore and offshore islands of coastal Maine. Schoodic Institute is building partnerships with other institutions and universities attempting to restore fresh and salt water health along the Maine Coast. With a small core staff coordinating with partners and developing new information and experiences, Schoodic Institute provides a powerful platform for educating the public and Park visitors (roughly 2.5 million per year) about water resources and their proper care, management, and restoration.

Recent research with partners includes close cooperation with other organizations concerned about coastal waters. In the intertidal zone, Schoodic Institute is partnering with Earthwatch Institute and Cedar Crest College to study ocean acidification and its impacts on shellfish and intertidal ecology, research that that has been shifted from Belize. In shallow waters, eel grass beds in the Acadia region appear to be in decline. Led by Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, a network of people and organizations including the Institute is monitoring eel grass beds, which provide critical nursery grounds for fish and shellfish larvae and habitat for scores of other marine organisms in Frenchman Bay and beyond. Decline is alarming, and ways to halt it and restore eel grass beds must be found.

Schools are included in watershed research through a joint effort with the University of Maine funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other funders. Over the past several years, students throughout northern New England have been helping to monitor mercury contamination in lakes and streams and identify habitats where it is a problem. In coming years, students will be measuring and recording snowpack depths in order to look for changes that may herald other changes in the watersheds of the Acadia region.

Overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction have devastated fishing in Maine. Prudent management and proper restoration can reverse these trends. Schoodic Institute, by joining with partners, can become a regional forum and catalyst for restoring the natural bounty that has supported Maine wildlife and its local fishing tradition. Schoodic Institute has begun collecting the oral history in local fishing communities to begin its involvement in understanding the changing baselines of the Maine fishery and the way back to both viable fish populations and viable fishery-dependent wildlife.