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Maine RII Track-2 idea

ME EPCSoR RII Track 2 Ideas:

The Maine EPSCoR RII Track 1 is the “Sustainability Solutions Initiative” (SSI), which involves over 100 faculty, postdocs, and professionals, and over 200 graduate, undergraduate, and high school students at 13 institutions in the state. The SSI portfolio, while diverse, is united in an overall, interdisciplinary, integrated effort to produce sustainability knowledge and link it to actions that meet human needs while preserving the planet’s life-support systems.

SSI’s current research is based on the integrative components of social-ecological-systems (SES) and knowledge-to-action (K-A) in the context of three landscape change drivers: 1) urbanization; 2) forest ecosystem management; and 3) climate and energy futures. All SSI teams are interdisciplinary and work in close partnership with each other and with diverse stakeholders to maximize the relevance and potential value of the SSI research.

The SSI project is also currently working towards greater statewide collaboration via the use of cloud computing for shared data sets & analysis, communication, visualization, etc.In addition, it has been suggested by NSF and AAAS that we consider collaborating with other states to take a regional view for some of these research areas.

The following research projects are part of SSI’s current portfolio:

SSI Core Research Projects:
Protecting Natural Resources at the Community Scale: Using Population Persistence of Vernal Pool Fauna as a Model System to Study Urbanization, Climate Change and Forest Management:

Faculty and students at the University of Maine are conducting research on pool-breeding amphibians, in conjunction with an ongoing Vernal Pool Mapping Program (VPMP). Research is driven by the needs of regulators and planners identified through stakeholder meetings. Social survey and focus group data informs the work with three model towns chosen from VPMP municipalities, and findings from the three projects will be combined to develop conservation guidelines with stakeholders. Research centers around: 1) studying the effects of different land-use and forest management practices on amphibian dispersal and migration, with the goal of understanding how these movement processes affect population dynamics and persistence; 2) providing science-based information to facilitate the regulation and conservation of amphibians with complex life histories in Maine’s diverse geographic landscapes, while allowing for economic growth and development; 3) studying the behavior of municipalities and boundary organizations to elucidate opportunities in decision making for promoting sustainable communities.

Sustainable Urban Regions Project (SURP):
Faculty and students at the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maineare looking at urbanization as a highly complex set of forces involving multiple socio-economic, ecological and policy forces interacting with one another at multiple scales over multiple time frames. This team is constructing, testing, and using computer simulation models of coupled socio-ecological systems in urban regions, with a focus on developing such models for the Portland and Bangor metropolitan regions using both existing computer planning models and developing using the Urban Sim modeling framework. This development is coordinated with a variety of public and private sector stakeholder involvement that helps set research priorities and assists in the assessment of the effectiveness of model outputs.

Decision Tools to Support Water Resources Sustainability of Managed Lake Systems:
Faculty and students at the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maineare focusing on sustaining ecosystems associated with water resources while maintaining the services they provide to humans (eg. power production, drinking water, recreation, etc.). They are developing computational tools coupled with statistical and laboratory analysis of available and new field data compiled for this project, with a target audience of lake managers in federal and state agencies, not-for-profit groups engaged in lake advocacy, and industry. The team is providing new field data, interpretation of available data using new methods, and creating a computational framework to explore current and potential future conditions within the Sebago Lake watershed. These materials will be used by outreach professionals at the Portland Water District, with the watershed simulation tool made available through an internet interface, with the goal of guiding lake management within Maine that balances the competing demands on lake systems while providing a useful and accessible educational resource for Maine citizens.

Ecological and Social Change: Adaptation, Place, and Evaluation (ESCAPE):
Faculty and students at the University of Maine are taking an integrated approach to: 1) investigate and contrast SES dynamics in the context of urban-rural landscape gradients, private landownership, place attachment, and forest health; and 2) Identify indicators best measuring relevant ecological and social change and permitting detection of proximity to thresholds among landowners, decision-makers, private businesses, and community residents; 3) Examine connections between scientific knowledge regarding SES dynamics and landowner/decision-maker actions that potentially affect SES resilience, with a particular focus on understanding the potential for landowners, municipal officials, forest managers, and others to conceptualize or operationalize SES concepts; 4) Determine how SES information affects action processes among landowners, decision-makers, private businesses, community residents and the voting public, including the potential for these stakeholders to shape SES resilience and the SES characteristics that facilitate effective landscape governance (e.g., forest management, land use planning, land management); and 5) Analyze processes and methods that influence stakeholder engagement, with particular emphasis on evaluating processes that affect research partnerships between researchers and multi-scale stakeholders (landowners, landowner-based organizations, municipal officials, private businesses, community residents).

The Knowledge-Action Collaborative:
Faculty and students at the University of Maine are engaged in studying researchers, the general population, and stakeholders (either at the organizational or individual level) in order to provide an effective body of knowledge-to-action information to the SSI teams. The team is studying how stakeholders interact with the research process and how obstacles to successful K-A processes can be overcome. This includes testing theories on the ways in which individual and institutional processes link stakeholders and community actions, and how the sustainability science research process influences and is influenced by these collaborations.

Analysis of Alternative Futures in Maine using Spatial Models of Coupled Social and Ecological Systems:
Faculty and students at the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maineare creating capacity to forecast alternative development patterns and assess their impact on coupled human and natural systems. Maine’s natural resources are highly productive and central to sustaining the State’s quality-of-life, but changing ownership and development patterns pose sustainability challenges. The team is using Bayesian Belief Networks (BBN) to combine spatial data, expert knowledge, and stakeholder values to develop decision tools designed to identify at-risk resources – especially aquatic resources and other significant landscape features. Specific objectives are to: (1) expand our spatial analysis of alternative futures from the 1-million-hectare Lower Penobscot River Watershed (LPRW) to the State of Maine using BBNs to model how key landscape drivers such as population and climate change affect future land use scenarios and resulting tradeoffs; (2) use existing and novel data regarding interactions between land use and ecosystem services to parameterize watershed-scale BBN models that identify aquatic resources at risk of exceeding biophysical and regulatory thresholds; and (3) engage a range of stakeholders to study how spatially explicit risk assessment maps and knowledge can inform public/private actions to protect at-risk resources.

Adaptation Strategies in a Changing Climate - Maine’s Coastal Communities and the Statewide Stakeholder Process:
Faculty and students at the University of Maine are focusing on reducing climate-related impacts in the coastal zone through the use of infrastructure improvements and tailored decision-support tools that promote economic development and secure communities. By seeking to involve the integration of climate information in infrastructure design (for example, culverts) and using hydroclimatic forecasts, this team is working with town managers, planners, and engineers to identify knowledge gaps and characterize attendant uncertainties and unknowns. The research team has also carried out a survey of Maine’s coastal communities and obtained survey feedback from researchers in other coastal states, so as to develop a generalizable approach to climate adaptation in the coastal zone.

Mobilizing Diverse Interests to Address Invasive Species Threats to Coupled Natural/Human Systems: The Case of the Emerald Ash Borer in Maine
Faculty and students at the University of Maine are studying and facilitating the ways that Wabanaki basketmakers, tribes, state and federal foresters, various university researchers, landowners and others can come together to prevent, detect, and respond to the emerald ash borer (EAB), a potentially devastating invasive threat to all three species of ash trees found in Maine. The team worked with key tribal, state and federal stakeholders to identify and implement four areas of collaborative research: 1) mapping ash resources; 2) developing policy guidance; 3) public education and stakeholder engagement; and 4) seed collection.
Maine Tidal Power Initiative - Linking Knowledge to Action for Responsible Development of Tidal Power:
Faculty and students at the University of Maine are contributing research towards solving a key sustainability challenge in Maine: the need for renewable energy. This project focuses on tidal power as a part of the solution and seeks to determine how we can support the sustainable development of this renewable energy resource through the engagement of stakeholders in an iterative process of research and outreach. While this broad, solution-‐driven question compels the research, the team’s focus is on understanding (and creating) linkages between technical (engineering, biological, and physical resource evaluations) research of tidal power with social science and knowledge to action research necessary for informing decisions about tidal power development.

SSI Core Integration Projects:

Lessons from a diverse portfolio - Building applicable knowledge through a multi-method framework for coupled-systems research:
Faculty and students at the University of Maine are examining the whole SSI portfolio to explore questions about SES research practice, success, and knowledge exchange. Their three-part study utilizes a general SES classification framework, social-network research methods, and cooperative experiments to evaluate the SSI research portfolio. They are collecting three types of data: 1) attributes of the teams and the systems they study; 2) network structure of interactions between and within teams; and 3) cooperative propensities as a function of “markers” such as discipline and institution as measured by experimental games. Their data analysis will identify major axes of variation among projects, and interrelationships between project, team, and system attributes. Their exploratory work in this novel domain will strengthen knowledge of the linkages across SSI projects, extend the capacity for cross-project comparisons, support hypothesis generation that can inform management of the SSI research portfolio, and elucidate more general principles that can advance the state of the field at large.

An SSI Cyber-Informatics Development Plan:
Faculty and students at the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maineare working across the whole SSI portfolio on the generation, use, and management of data, which constitutes both a critical challenge and a unique opportunity for SSI. Data-related challenges stem from diversity, volume, formats, streaming, and versioning, and undergirds efforts that seek to model, diagnose, and predict the trajectory of complex, coupled natural-human systems—a central thrust within SSI. This team is pursuing an integrative research strategy that involves: (a) efforts to maximize the efficacy of computational resources for data-related research to enhance and complement the current research portfolio within the SSI, (b) proactive coordination and initiation of collaborative efforts across various research projects within SSI and the state of Maine to lower the threshold related to data search, access, processing (format, resolution etc.), and archiving, and (c) development, testing, and implementation of a database management backbone using appropriate database software and hardware, (d) development of a metadata catalog and data curation tools that will aid metadata generation, (e) development of a project-wide ontology that seeks to systematize the relationships between knowledge across various domains and their linkages to data, (f) support for scientific workflows that will allow SSI projects to link various data to high performance computational and analytical tools, and (g) investigate the potential for web-based modeling, data analysis and visualization tools that allow user interaction, gaming, and shared vision planning.

Application of an Integrative Decision Support Tool and Spatial Modeling to Assess the Implications of Future Growth Scenarios on Sensitive Aquatic Resources in Maine:
Faculty and students from the University of Maine and the University of Southern Maine are expanding SSI’s capability to forecast alternative future urbanization patterns and assess their impact on human and natural systems. Their approach uses Bayesian Belief Network (BBN) models to combine spatial data, expert knowledge, and stakeholder values to develop decision tools designed to identify at-risk aquatic resources. Specific objectives are to generate: (1) a BBN development model to identify streams and wetlands likely to experience new residential and commercial development near the major urban centers of Maine; and (2) a pilot municipal-scale BBN model to identify smaller at-risk wetlands. Future development scenarios modeled here will consider zoning and land use policies, and explore varying levels of population growth and housing density. They are also evaluating opportunities for prioritizing policy and regulatory responses within existing legal frameworks and, if applicable, the potential opportunities and pitfalls arising from reforms designed to allow such prioritization.

Building Capacity and Coherence - Integration of Socio-Economic Data Collection:
Faculty and students at the University of Maine are assisting the current research projects in the SSI portfolio by institutionalizing the collection of socio-economic data across SSI. The team is coordinating the data collection efforts of the social science faculty/graduate students currently on SSI teams, and is providing data collection expertise to assist with conceptualization, research design and instrument design. By assisting teams to ask the right questions, the resulting data can better support the testing of relationships between desired constructs. By creating and supporting synergies across the entire scope of the SSI project, leading to the identification of new hypotheses and the development of a more integrative research framework, the team will build an SSI social science database that will allow for consistent data collection across separate projects, indexed to allow for time, space, topic and population links so that ultimately we can perform a 'meta-analysis' of Maine’s sustainability domain.

SSI Core New Faculty Start-Up Projects:

Effects of Climate Change on Organisms (ECCO):
Faculty and students at the University of Maine are examining social-economic responses to climate change, which range from mitigation to adaptation. Increasingly the focus has turned to adaptation as it has become clear that international efforts to reduce CO2 output have not produced major results. In Maine, many signature species are likely to be affected by climate change in part because the state is a transition zone from deciduous to boreal forest and thus many species are at either the southern or northern edges of their ranges. This project is assisting stakeholders representing key Maine industries (tourism, logging, agriculture) in understanding the effects of climate change on terrestrial ecosystems in ways that are relevant to their policy and management decisions.

SES synergy - Finding and Applying Best Practices in Socio-ecological Systems Modeling and Outreach:
Faculty and students at the University of Maine are examining the whole SSI portfolio, where team study systems and SES modeling approaches vary significantly. This methodological diversity provides a rare opportunity to gather lessons on how to best employ SES models. This team is exploring and synthesizing SES modeling across SSI, producing comprehensive SES modeling and outreach recommendations, and acting on those recommendations to achieve hard-won theoretical and practical integration across the SSI portfolio. After surveying the use of SES modeling across SSI teams, the data collected will be compiled into a synthetic report which will include a typology of SES modeling approaches within and beyond the SSI, identify complementarities and gaps in the SES model portfolio, extract SES modeling best practices, and conclude with recommendations for future SES modeling outreach. The second phase will implement recommendations of the SES synthesis report, which might include an SES model for testing newly identified questions of sustainability science, a cross-project SES decision support model, or an participatory SES modeling workshop for improving collaboration and stakeholder engagement.

SSI Partner Projects (Broadening statewide participation & capacity at primarily undergraduate institutions)

Ecological & Economic Recovery & Sustainability of the Kennebec & Androscoggin Rivers:
Faculty and students from Bowdoin and Bates Colleges and the University of Southern Maine are examining ecological and economic recovery of the Kennebec and Androscoggin rivers and their common estuary and nearshore marine environment with the goal of estimating the potential economic benefits of ecological restoration. Their research is identifying and modeling the ecological and socioeconomic constraints hindering more complete ecosystem recovery, and predict the economic benefits of further recovery under different scenarios of habitat restoration and dam removal.

Modeling Resilience and Adaptation in the Belgrade Lakes Watershed:
Faculty and students at Colby College are collaborating with the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance, the Maine Congress of Lake Associations, faculty from the University of Maine Farmington, and other stakeholders to understand the impact of landscape and lake-ecosystem changes in the development of central Maine. The Belgrade Lakes region is being used as a model because it provides a unique laboratory to understand the complex dynamics between environmental, biogeochemical, and socio-economic systems.

Sustaining Quality of Place in the Saco River Estuary through Community-based Ecosystem Management:
Faculty & students at the University of New England are looking at how to utilize a framework of community-based ecosystem management to sustain the structure and function of the Saco River estuary by connecting human values and actions with the ecological health of the estuary. To that end, they are developing indicators that connect to and reflect the status of what people value about the estuary with the land use, conservation, and management actions that have both positive and negative effects on the ecosystem services provided by the estuary and its immediate watershed.

Understanding the Relationships among Biodiversity, Forest Management, and Invasive Species Disturbance:
Faculty and students at Unity College are focusing on the effects of logging and forest management techniques on biodiversity in Hemlock-dominated ecosystems, which provide essential habitat for wildlife and are an important component of northern forests.Through collaborations with small woodlot owners, they are investigating management practices that provide the most robust scenario for ecosystem health and the economic well-being of the landowner. Their research involves:1) gathering long-term ecological baseline data that will help assess the eventual impact of the invasive hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA); 2) evaluating the impact of current forestry practices on ecosystem health; and 3) addressing the social and economic implications of hemlock logging and HWA.

Promoting Watershed-based Sustainable Development through Ecological and Socio-Economic Research and Educational Initiatives:
Faculty and students at the University of Maine Farmington are investigating knowledge-to-action that promotes sustainability in the Rangeley lakes region through the development of baseline data; identification of social, economic, and ecological indicators; and assessment of local knowledge-to-action pathways. Community stakeholders, such as the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust (RLHT) and public schools are engaged, and UMF is collaborating with Colby College and the Belgrade Regional Conservation Alliance (BRCA) to explore the regional similarities and differences between the Rangeley and Belgrade lakes regions, with the long-term goal of progressing toward a meta-analysis of watershed-based sustainability projects that promote proactive policy and decision making.

Modeling Evolving Ecological, Cultural, and Economic Systems of the Arostook River Watershed for Sustainable Development:
Faculty and students at the University of Maine Presque Isle are gathering data andconducting research on the natural, cultural, and economic resources of the Aroostook River watershed.

The data will contribute to a growing GIS database that will be available to local businesses, municipalities, state and federal agencies, and citizens.They are engaging with a variety of stakeholders to develop a better understanding of sustainable resource use, with a particular focus on the utilization of grasslands as a biomass source. TheirGIS data will facilitate this biomass effort, and also provide ecological monitoring to mitigate unintended harm to natural systems.

Biomass Energy Resources in the St. John Valley: Development Potential, Landscape Implications, and Replication Possiblities:
Faculty and students at the University of Maine Fort Kent are working to bring about a better understanding of the landscape consequences of large-scale biomass energy resource development in the St. John Valley of Aroostook County. They are accomplishing this through: 1) a land-use mapping research project that will translate the biomass volume required by the community into plausible landscape scenarios based on the region’s varied land uses and land covers; and 2) gauging the level of community acceptance and the potential to meet real consumer demand.

Evaluating the Effects of Turkeys on Maine Agriculture:
Faculty and students at the University of Maine Augusta are collaborating with University of Maine Cooperative Extension and community stakeholders to evaluate the effects of turkeys on Maine agriculture. The team is addressing problems that include the evaluation of land use, feeding habits, gut microbial ecology, and population genetic structuring of turkeys inhabiting agricultural versus non-agricultural areas of Maine.lp.