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Researchers to Study Effects of Climate Change in Acadia National Park

2017 Second Century Stewardship fellows


Allyson Jackson, Alessio Mortelliti and Chris Nadeau will conduct research in Maine's Acadia National Park as part of Second Century Stewardship. | Photos courtesy Allyson Jackson, Alessio Mortelliti and Chris Nadeau

Three scientists have been awarded fellowships to conduct research in Acadia National Park as part of Second Century Stewardship, an initiative of the National Park Service, Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Second Century Stewardship was launched in 2016 upon the centennial of the National Park Service to provide top-quality science research for park stewardship, build public appreciation for science, and pursue solutions to critical issues for parks and society.  The collaboration is initially focused at Acadia National Park in Maine, with plans to partner with national parks across the country over time.

Three research fellows have been named for 2017:

  • Allyson Jackson, a Ph.D. student in the Fisheries and Wildlife Department at Oregon State University
  • Alessio Mortelliti, assistant professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Conservation at the University of Maine
  • Chris Nadeau, a Ph.D. student in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at the University of Connecticut.

The effects of climate change on Acadia National Park are at the forefront of the research of two of the fellows.

Mortelliti, whose lab research focuses on the effects of land-use change on mammals and birds, will focus on the northward movement of plant species as temperature increases. Many plant species currently reach their northern limit just south of Acadia and are expected to shift northward into the park.

He will explore how rodents in Acadia play a role in which plant species successfully colonize the park. He will use replicated field experiments to gain insights into which tree species may expand northward successfully.

“The results of our field experiments will allow managers to predict how local forest communities might change in the coming years and thus allow them to take the appropriate actions in time,” Mortelliti said.

Nadeau also studies the potential impacts of climate change on species around the globe, using modeling, field observation and experiments to predict where species are most vulnerable and determine how conservation groups can best mitigate the negative impacts of climate change on animal populations.

As a Second Century Stewardship fellow, Nadeau will concentrate his studies on the hundreds of freshwater rock pools dotting Acadia’s Schoodic Point. Although the pools are abundant, little is known about their biodiversity — and how that mix may fare under the effects of climate change.

“Understanding how biodiversity responds to climate change in freshwater rock pools could provide critical information about potential patterns of biodiversity change both locally and globally,” Nadeau said.

Jackson’s work is intended to advance the Second Century Stewardship goal of improving public understanding and appreciation of science by enlisting the participation of some of the park’s more than 3 million visitors each year. Citizen scientists will be enlisted to collect data on birds and aquatic insects for Jackson’s project, which seeks to quantify how contaminants such as mercury move through the food chain: from aquatic insects to the riparian birds that feed upon them.

Documenting and understanding resources that travel from aquatic to terrestrial ecosystems “is now critical as we manage for resilient ecosystems in the second century of stewardship at Acadia,” Jackson said. 

The three 2017 Fellows will join inaugural SCS Fellow Abbey Paulson, who is using environmental DNA to increase understanding of patterns of biodiversity in Acadia and documenting a new baseline for monitoring of future change. In addition to research support and housing at Schoodic Institute, the Fellows will receive science communication training, and will contribute to development of resources to bring park science to classrooms across the country. 

“The National Park Service relies on scientific knowledge as the foundation for protecting a great diversity of natural and cultural resources. The Second Century Stewardship research fellows will provide the best available science to help us manage and protect Acadia National Park for present and future generations,” said Acadia National Park superintendent Kevin Schneider.

Mark Berry, president and CEO of Schoodic Institute, said, “Acadia and our other parks represent an important opportunity to demonstrate the vital role of science in stewardship of the places we care for.”

Added Shirley Malcom, head of Education and Human Resources programs at AAAS, “We look forward to expansion of this initiative to other units, to help citizens across the nation recognize the importance of science in the preservation and management of our national parks, often referred to as ‘America’s Best Idea.’”

Initial funding for the program was donated by David Evans Shaw, a Maine-based entrepreneur, AAAS treasurer and executive producer of the film “Second Century Stewardship: Science Beyond the Scenery in Acadia National Park.”