Department of Environmental Science and Policy

DES Students present their work at the State House in Augusta.


Research poster presentation at the second annual State House University of Maine System Undergraduate Research Day on March 23, 2012.

Title: Studying fish growth: Bioenergetics modeling of Atlantic cod, Gadus morhua, in the Kennebec/Androscoggin nearshore marine system

Author: Miguel Barajas

Faculty Mentors: Dr. Karen Wilson & Dr. Theo Willis, Department of Environmental Science

Department of Environmental Science


From 2010-2011, Atlantic cod, Gadus morhua, were caught using hook and line in the Kennebec/Androscoggin nearshore marine system. The stomach contents of the fish were collected using the gastric lavage technique and the fish were returned to the water alive. The stomach contents were analyzed using established keys and a dissecting microscope. The identified stomach content data was utilized in the Wisconsin Bioenergetics Model (Hanson et. al., 1997) to simulate fish growth over time. Computer simulations were run in which the amount of fish in the diet was altered to determine how growth would be affected. The results of this study reveal the current composition and energetic content of the diet of Atlantic cod in the Kennebec/Androscoggin nearshore marine system and illustrate how the presence or absence of fish in the diet can affect growth, reproduction, and survival.




Research poster presentations at the first annual State House University of Maine System Undergraduate Research Day on May 10, 2011.  

TitleMaking a Photographic Dichotomous Key to Adult Female Ticks (Family Ixodidae) in Maine

Authors: Letícia Smith1,3, Charles Lubelczyk2, Susan Elias2, Eleanor Lacombe2

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Joseph Staples. Department of Environmental Science

1University of Southern Maine Department of Environmental Science,

2Maine Medical Center Research Institute Vector-Borne Disease Lab 


In this project we developed a key to the tick species of Maine with the goal of facilitating the process of identifying those species known to exist in the state. This key/guide will be of value to health clinics, veterinary clinics, and the general public as a tool to quickly educate and lower the risk of tick-borne diseases in northern New England.   

TitleFoliar mercury (Hg) concentrations along an urban-rural gradient in southern Maine

Authors: Gordon Lane, Todd Bartlett, & Josh Keough1

Faculty Mentors: Dr. Joseph Staples  and Dr. Robert Sanford, Department of Environmental Science

Department of Environmental Science


Mercury is a heavy metal of global environmental concern due to its adverse effects on the health of various organisms, including humans. It is a major byproduct of coal burning and is transported long distances through the atmosphere. Plant foliage will accumulate airborne mercury particles through normal respiration and act as a vector for mercury to enter the food web. Understanding how mercury cycles in the environment is imperative to managing it as a health threat. Our research measured the amount of mercury in tree foliage along an urban-rural gradient to determine if different tree species retain different amounts of mercury, and if foliage in urban areas contains more mercury than in rural areas. We found no difference in mercury concentrations between birch, oak, and maple trees, however mercury concentrations were higher in more urbanized areas. The majority of mercury found in Maine is thought to come from industry in the Midwest, but our results suggest local sources also contribute to mercury levels in foliage and, potentially, the local food web. Additionally, mercury levels found in our study are significantly higher than levels found in similar studies elsewhere in the United States and Canada. We are currently designing a more in-depth experiment to explore this issue.  

 TitleAnalysis of heavy metal content in ash and airborne particulates associated with wood and pellet stoves.

Authors: Miranda M. Beaubien1, Kaitlyn A. Bennett1, Jamie M. Grindle1,3, Thomas J. Patterson 2.

Faculty Mentors: Dr. Joseph K. Staples and Dr. Daniel M. Martínez

1Department of Environmental Science

2Department of Geosciences


 In this study we used X-ray fluorescence (XRF) to determine heavy metal content in parts per million per volume of ash and airborne particulates collected from residential wood and pellet stoves and under controlled combustion in the laboratory.  Early analysis  has revealed the presence of arsenic (trace amounts), lead, and mercury (trace amounts) among numerous other metallic species.  Here we present a summary of our findings to date.  

TitleRapid analysis of toxicity in ash and airborne particulates from residential wood combustion using bioluminescent bacteria, Vibrio fischeri and Microtox®  system

Authors1Kaitlyn A. Bennett, 1Jamie M. Grindle, 1Miranda M. Beaubien,2Thomas J. Patterson

Faculty Mentors: Dr. Joseph K. Staples and Dr. Daniel Martinez

1Department of Environmental Science

2Department of Geosciences


In this study, ash and airborne particulates from wood and pellet stoves was tested for toxicity by monitoring changes in bioluminescence of the bacteria, Vibrio fischeri using the Microtox toxicity system. Particulates were collected using standard sampling methods and passive technique involving an evacuated coolant tank fitted with a 0.2 mm pore filter.  In addition to toxicity, analysis of air samples was also based on particulate size and composition using both compound light microscope and scanning electron microscope (SEM). The methods outlined in this research represent a novel rapid approach to toxicological analysis of airborne particulates from RWC. 

 Title: Methods in Digital Curation of Insect Specimens

Authors: Erin Henry, Miranda Beaubien, Leticia Smith,

Faculty Mentor:  Dr. Joseph K. Staples

University of Southern Maine Department of Environmental Science

Digital imaging is currently revolutionizing the field of biological curation.  However, these methods are still in their infancy and universal best practices for obtaining digital images of specimens are yet to be established. In this project we demonstrate techniques for obtaining diagnostic images of entomological specimens that will eventually be stored in a searchable online database.