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UMPI student poster named one of 10 best at undergraduate conference

An Environmental Studies and Sustainability major at the University of Maine at Presque Isle recently won a “best poster” award at the 2012 Northeast Undergraduate Research Development Symposium in Biddeford. Scott Belair’s poster was one of just 10 among more than 100 posters to receive the recognition.

Belair’s poster was titled The Effects of Forest Type on Arthropod Abundance and Food Use by Birds. It was based on research by Jason Johnston, UMPI Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology, that Belair and two other students, Dan Sheffield and Dylan Plissey, helped to conduct.

Funded by a $34,588 Northeastern States Research Cooperative grant, Johnston’s three-year study focused on the relationships between the structure and composition of forest stands and the abundance of invertebrates there, in order to determine how different forest management practices in those forest stands impacted the amount of food available for animals that lived there. The hope is that the research findings will help forest ecologists and managers to establish sustainable forestry management practices that will increase food availability and improve habitat quality.

In his poster, Belair explained that four common habitat types found in Maine commercial forests were selected for the study – 30-year-old even age spruce plantation, 30-year-old even age natural regeneration forest, a mature spruce forest (more than 75 years since last harvest), and a mature hemlock forest (more than 75 years since last harvest). At each study site, an inventory was taken of all vegetation and ground cover type.

Between April 2010 and August 2011, Johnston and student researchers sampled spider and insect populations in each habitat. Ground insects were caught in pitfall traps that consisted of a one liter soda bottle with the top cut off and inverted into the bottom to serve as a funnel. The traps were buried flush with the ground surface and insects crawling along the ground would fall through the funnel and into a sample cup filled with a non-toxic preservative. Foliage insects were caught using two methods: shaking branches enclosed in a cloth bag and then collecting what was in the bag or shaking branches with a sheet below that insects fell upon and were then collected from. More than 30,000 specimens were collected and identified later in the lab.

Johnston and student researchers also caught birds in mist nets and collected crop and fecal samples to review in the lab and identify what food items were being utilized. Data from every bird caught was recorded and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife band was attached to each bird’s leg before release.

“We found many differences between the study sites and are currently working toward the publication of the study’s findings,” Belair said. “Having been involved with this research for over two years now, it has become a major part of my education at UMPI. I have spent a lot of time setting up study sites and collecting data in the field as well as processing data back at the lab. The knowledge I gained from this first-hand experience really prepared me well for my poster presentation at the symposium and I was honored to have received recognition for the effort.”

UMPI was also represented at the symposium by students Stephanie Corriveau and Robyn Oster, who offered a poster presentation titled MicroRNAs let-7i and miR-101a are regulated during zebrafish caudal fin regeneration: Fishing for MicroRNAs. Their poster described the research they and several other UMPI and UMFK students helped to conduct at the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory.

The research symposium, held at the University of New England March 10 to 11, was a National Science Foundation-supported conference that promoted scientific exploration through peer collaboration. According to UNE, the symposium was created, organized and run by undergraduate and graduate students, and provided participating students with the opportunity to present their research projects. It also served as a valuable forum to obtain feedback from peers and develop meaningful scientific discussions among students from multiple universities. Nearly 180 students from 40 different colleges and universities from throughout New England and Atlantic Canada presented projects at the symposium.