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Completed Research Projects

Environmental Conservation

This research continues exploration of biological (non pesticide) control of a series of invasive plant and insect species that affect crops and forests.

The purpose of this research is to identify the microbial community constituents of mosquito midgut contents in order to identify new pathogens and functional gut microbes.

This project aims to design and synthesize the renewable biopolymer chitosan into novel nano-constructs that will efficiently remove tungsten from dilute aqueous solutions.

Bursaphelenchus antoniae, a species of nematode associated with pine weevils and maritime pine, was first described in 2006 in Leiria, north-western Portugal. The nematode has evolved with the pine weevil, and the pine weevil carries the nematode to dead and dying trees where the weevil lays its eggs. During egg laying, the nematode leaves the weevil and invades the tree where it feeds on fungi that have colonized the tree internally. Inoculations in Portugal with B. antoniae showed that this nematode was not pathogenic to maritime pine, a pine native to Portugal. Bursaphelenchus antoniae was discovered during surveys for Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, the pinewood nematode. Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, a native of North America was recently introduced into Portugal where it has devastated forests of maritime pine.
Bursaphelenchus antoniae was just discovered in the United States (Massachusetts) from white pine, and if this nematode was recently introduced into North America, our pines could be susceptible hosts. We propose to inoculate white pine, red pine, pitch pine and scots pine with B. antoniae to determine if it is pathogenic to any of these species. We include the non-native scots pine because it is very susceptible to B. xylophilus We are currently raising B. antoniae on fungal cultures in the laboratory.  Terminal shoots will be cut from 2 to 3-year-old potted trees and the nematodes pipetted onto the cut surface. The pathogenicity trial will be carried out twice. Positive results (pine wilt) will be retested on field grown trees. We will also trap pine weevils in various locations in southern New England and examine them for B. antoniae and other species of Bursaphelenchus, and this will help us understand the extent of distribution of the nematode. Forest service entomologists will initially help with collections and identifications.

The concept of the current experiment is to study carbon storage and possible cycling in soils which alternate between saturation and nonsaturated conditions on an annual basis. To allow the data to be considered robust, or applicable to numerous locations and soil types it will be necessary to have multiple years of data, but to also have data that 'repeats' or replicates itself. Statisticians contend that replicate study areas are required, but it may be that the soil environment is different enough from one place to another that the least variability within the data will come from multiple or replicate data stations within a single area.

The goals and objectives of the project are: To better understand the hydrological, biogeochemical and pedological properties and processes that affect SOM decomposition, CO2 and CH4 greenhouse gas fluxes, and C sequestration in depressional wetland ecosystems, as expressed across geographical and climatic gradients. I also hope to determine the relationship between soil and air temperature and accumulated soil C stocks and fluxes in depressional wetland systems, to determine the relationship between hydroperiod (i.e. duration of saturation and inundation) and accumulated soil C stocks and fluxes in depressional wetlands. Finally, I will seek to develop morphological indices of the hydroperiod within depressional wetlands in order to estimate or predict C

Communities across the country are face challenges from climate change. However, changes in municipal regulations take years to significantly change the buildings and infrastructure that make up our cities and towns. As a result, it is essential that communities begin now to adapt their built form regulations so that as climate impacts worsen, harm is minimized.  Outside of the major cities, it is not clear how many communities have taken steps toward climate change adaptation. There are a range of ways that communities could progress local adaptation policy, including preparing adaptation plans, including climate projections into other policy, or increasing resilience to current hazards and hoping that will help with intensified future risks. To explore these issues, this project will pilot a web-trawler that can identify adaptation actions at the local level in the New England region, and compare these to the situations of the communities. We will also survey Regional Planning Agencies and a sample of communities in the region. Taken together, this work will allow us to identify the status and types of adaptation actions underway in the region, the goals and barriers they are designed to address, and characterize these connections.

This research involves modeling of cell growth, metabolite production rates, and product yields on various feedstocks using a variety of target organisms that can perform the bioprocess. These emphases need to be addressed prior to commercial implementation of generation of biofuels and industrial precursors from hydrothermal vent microbes.

Your land is a part of your legacy. You have been a good steward of your land. Deciding what will happen to your land after you are gone is the next critical step of being a good steward. In fact it may be the most important step you can take as a landowner. Who will own your land and how will it be used? What will your legacy be?

Your land is likely one of your most valuable assets, especially if you have owned it for a long time and it has increased in value.  However, there is more to land than just its financial value. Because land can be connected to memories, experiences, and feelings, your land may also have significant personal value. Deciding what to do with your land brings with it the challenge of providing for both these financial and personal needs.

This project involves monitoring the levels and locations of EDCs (endocrine disrupting compounds) in the Assabet River of eastern Massachusetts to advance the protection of the aquatic environment.

This project will develop and diversify Crambe (an oilseed crop) and brassica (mustard green) species as dedicated bioenergy crops for biodiesel production. The proposed strategy will increase crop biomass and seed yields while growing these crops on marginal and heavy-metal-contaminated lands, thus increasing both yield and arable acreage.

Fishing is highly popular worldwide and a dominant use of many fish stocks (Cooke & Cowx 2004). There is a growing movement where anglers voluntarily practice catch-and-release to help maintain healthy fish stocks. It is therefore essential to develop conservation-minded angling practices to ensure the sustain ability of recreational fisheries and the conservation of exploited fish species.

Should management actions for declining species, such as forest-dwelling songbirds, focus more on enhancing habitat, controlling predators, controlling basal resources, or combined approaches?  We aim to address this question by investigating two key hypotheses that may account for the so-called predation paradox. The outcomes of these two interconnected studies will provide information to assess whether actions to reduce predator densities would be an effective means of managing urbanizing forests for declining songbird species.

 The purpose of this work is to determine if depolarizing insecticides, specifically the neonicotinoid, imidacloprid, cause insulin resistance (IR) in the obesity model insect D. melanogaster.  Employing field-realistic concentrations establishes this as a proof-of-principle experiment to develop the tools and strategy to study this process in the honeybee and its relationship to CCD. Nutritional factors are established major stressors involved in CCD. The reduced ability of bees to assimilate glucose due to IR would intensify the stress already caused by nutritional resources that are limited or of poor quality.

Eastern white pine has enormous economic value throughout its range. Over the region, the net volume of white pine saw logs is over 186 billion board feet (USDA Forest Service, Forest Inventory and Analysis). With a typical market price of $100/1,000 bd ft, the potential value of standing white pine is $18.6 billion. White pine attains the largest dimensions of any eastern tree serving as a critical habitat for many species of wildlife that depend on emergent crowns and large snags and downed woody debris. In addition, white pine serves as an important landscape ornamental and is widely planted in towns and cities across the eastern United States.  However,  in recent years White pines have experienced unprecedented damage due to native pests and pathogens that reduce growth, productivity and economic value.

This project aims to design and conduct economic laboratory experiments to investigate behavioral issues related to the defense of common pool resources from encroachment by outsiders. Common pool resources are assets -- often natural assets such as forests, fisheries and water supplies --t hat are managed by a group of users. We will design and conduct a series of laboratory experiments to examine the ability of a group of resource users to simultaneously manage their own exploitation of a resource and defend their resource from outside encroachment.

This project focuses on the economics of coping with decision environment anomalies through preparedness. Approaches to decision making in the presence of global anomalies and the economic implications for individual and collective preparedness will be investigated.

Recreational angling for striped bass is a popular activity in Massachusetts. Many bass are released following capture because of regulations and a growing conservation ethic, however, little is known about how stresses associated with capture impacts behavior and survival. This research is the first extensive approach to systematically link the physiological and physical stress response to angling with measures of post-release behavior and survival for coastal striped bass.

The goal of the project will be to develop methods to screen for mitochondrial impairment in human and animal tissues, a possible effect of exposure to a common pesticide.

Pitch pine-scrub oak forests are a significant contributor to the biodiversity of the Northeast. This project is examining the effects of management strategies on native bees within the Montague Plains Wildlife Management Area in central Massachusetts.

Despite the significant efforts to reduce nitrogen discharge from wastewater treatment facilities (WWTFs), the Long Island Sound (LIS) area affected by hypoxia actually increased over the last decade. Our preliminary research has suggested that WWTFs utilizing the biological nitrogen removal (BNR) process may actually increase particular forms of N that are more potent for algal bloom in LIS. We propose a research plan to evaluate the true impact of upgrading WWTF for N removal (i.e., BNR) on receiving water eutrophication and toxic algal bloom.

The research focuses on responses to extreme flood events in Vermont, primarily Hurricane Irene, but also prior flood disasters. This research contributes to theoretical debates on adaptation to extreme events by explicitly accounting for the impacts of human-actions in response to flooding on riparian forest ecosystems needs. This research also investigates the motivations for human action.

A home that has been designed according to LEED green building standards may not necessarily be sustainable unless the systems operations and maintenance are tuned up and owners are. This project will include environmental audits of fourteen LEED-certified homes in New England at least twelve months after they were occupied. Findings will be evaluated by comparing baseline (predicted) performance data (LEED documentation) with actual operational data in order to identify the issues that effect sustainability.

Trees and forests act as a sink to collect and hold carbon and as a result are thought of as part of the answer to mitigate increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and increased global warming. Roughly 55-percent of all forests in the United States are privately owned and 92-percent of these owners are families. This project will investigate the opinions and preferences of family forestland owners in order to build effective educational and management programs.

A number of studies show that the probability of audit and the size of the penalty for violation impact compliance rates, Advancing our understanding of these issues will lead to more efficient enforcement in the sense that for a given budget the regulator will be able to induce a higher level of compliance. The second stage of the project will investigate the effects of general deterrence and audit uncertainty in markets.

 Invasive plants are species introduced from another region (non-native) that have established self-sustaining populations and are spreading, often with substantial negative consequences.  Invasive plants have numerous detrimental effects on forest ecosystems.  Several forest understory invasive plants, such as oriental bittersweet, autumn olive, and honeysuckle outcompete or reduce growth of native vegetation. For example, glossy buckthorn grows in dense thickets that shade out native tree saplings and reduce their overall survival by up to 90%. Invasive plants also threaten forest regeneration by altering soil chemistry. For example, garlic mustard releases allelopathic chemicals that kill soil mycorrhizae and inhibit the establishment of native tree seedlings.  As a result of their vigorous growth, invasive plants are often able to dominate ecosystems following disturbance and impede forest succession.

Wetland identification, protection, and restoration is a multi-million dollar industry in the United States. State, regional, and federal agencies are working to develop and enforce regulations to maintain, enhance, increase, and protect our nation's wetlands. Non-profit organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, and Ducks Unlimited have joined forces to support many of these efforts. In contrast, economic development can be stymied by over-regulation and thus developers argue for a balance between natural resource protection and development. In between these arguments are often the small isolated wetlands known as vernal pools that have already suffered serious loss (some regions report as much as a 90% loss of vernal pool wetlands, mostly due to draining for agriculture). Although many states protect vernal pools in their wetlands regulations, federal protection under the Clean Water Act is limited because these systems are often not connected at the surface to the larger wetlands. Thus, showing a connectedness to the regional hydrology could be an important issue regarding their protection.

Researchers will evaluate the potential use of field indicators of hydric soils to characterize wetland hydroperiods with respect to frequency, depth, and duration of water table fluctuations; test the effectiveness of proposed hydric soil indicators to identify 'problem hydric soils'; test monitoring protocols used to identify reducing conditions to determine if they are effective within a range of soil conditions within the Northeast; and investigate the hydraulic properties of hydromorphic soils with episaturation.

Managing conflict between people and black bears is a significant challenge confronting wildlife professionals. The challenge is heightened by the species’ large geographic range, acceptance of human disturbance, and propensity to exploit anthropogenic food sources such as garbage cans, bird feeders, apiaries, fruit orchards, and agricultural fields. Understanding and quantifying the range of variation in the nutritional ecology of free-ranging black bears in the Northeast is important for effective management of the species.

This research studies the effectiveness of stormwater Best Management Practices as tools to mitigate umpacts resultng from urbanization. The results of the study will highlight the implications for adaptation to flood mitigation risk under climate change scenarios in the Boston Metro Area and other urbanized watersheds.

The goal of this project is to gain further understanding of the genetic and evolutionary consequences of stream fragmentation by applying an evolutionary perspective to the consequences of stream fragmentation on wild brook trout populations in Massachusetts. Because brook trout are an indicator species for cold, unpolluted stream habitat, this work will help conserve and retain the ecosystem integrity of this critical habitat type.

The intent of this research project is to investigate the structural viability of using low-value local trees as part of a new, value-added wood-bamboo glue-laminated building product.

Invasive plants in forest understories in Massachusetts threaten native ecosystems and working forests. This research will use satellite remote sensing to map three understory invasive species (buckthorn, honeysuckle, and barberry) in western Massachusetts. Occurrence maps will be compared to geology, topography, and land use to better identify correlates of invasion across the landscape and create maps identifying high invasion risk.

Invasive plants lead to the loss of crop revenue in agricultural systems, damage native habitats and wildlife populations, and alter ecosystem services such as nutrient cycling. This project will map the abundance of 13 problematic invasive plants across the northeastern United States by collecting expert knowledge. We will then predict invasion risk based on current climactic suitability, as well as future risk associated with climate change.

American elms represent some of the most culturally and economically significant urban trees. Their contributions to the urban landscape are numerous and include: carbon sequestration, capture of storm water and airborne particulate matter, reduced heating and cooling costs through wind buffering and shade and enhanced aesthetics with their large, sweeping canopies. Prior to the introduction of Dutch Elm Disease, American elms dominated the urban and suburban landscape because of their beauty, rapid growth rates and ability to tolerate difficult growing conditions.  Despite the devastating effects of the disease, millions of American elms still occupy the urban and forest landscape today. But, after decades of regular injection the costs associated with these treatments are adversely impacting tree heath and this issue must be addressed. The UMass Shade Tree Laboratory, now the Plant Diagnostic Laboratory, was founded in 1935 with the sole purpose of combating the DED epidemic. Now, 80 years later the fight against this destructive disease continues in ways that could never be predicted decades ago.

Food banks are major consumers of energy related to food handling and storage as well as major customers for local food producers. Energy efficiency and cost reduction in food banks could have synergistic benefits for both types of enterprise. This project will develop a process map to integrate energy and food handling audits tio help identify key nodes for effective energy efficiency and food safety interventions. By evaluating  technological innovation in the context of the local post-harvest food system the food banks can optimize energy efficiency and food safety.

This multidisciplinary project will promote the use of biochar and bio-oil generated from agricultural/forest organic wastes to enhance small farm sustainability through providing renewable fuel, and improving soil quality and crop productivity, and to improve the environment through sequestrating greenhouse gases and reducing the mobility and exposure of contaminants in soils.

Global climate change affects every aspect of our life. Global warming increases the intensity of drought, which leads to the increase in frequency and severity of forest fires. Beyond being a source of soot and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), severe wildfires/forest fires can damage soils, water quality and quantity, fisheries, plant communities, wildlife habitat, and endangered species; result in economic and property loss; and cause harms to the environment and public health. Forest thinning or prescribed burns reduce the accumulation of hazardous fuels and restore forest health.  The major cause of global warming is the ever-increasing concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere from the use of carbon-based fuels. Biochar, the anaerobic pyrolysis productof biomass waste material, has attracted research interest as a soil amendment that may improve soil structure, moisture retention, and buffering capacity, and that helps control plant root diseases and sequester carbon in soils (instead of release to air as CO2), as a result, mitigate greenhouse effect. Therefore, the goal of this proposed project is to utilize wood waste materials to produce biochar which can be used in both forest and agricultural soils to improve soil quality, sequester carbon in soils, and reduce the emission of greenhouse gases (e.g., CO2 and N2O).


This study will examine threats to water security and potential impacts on water quantity and quality in watershed systems. The main goal of the study is to evaluate the effects of land use, extreme precipitation, and climatic stressors on water security (quantity and quality) and potential mitigation opportunities at a river basin scale. Geographic Information Systems (GIS), uncertainty analysis, simulation modeling, and a multi-attribute decision framework will be used to evaluate and advance water security in watershed systems.

The long-term goal of this research is to gather more empirical data that will help practitioners decide which trees to choose for a particular site. The same settings where trees provide benefits present challenging and even severe growing conditions that may thwart survival and growth (Jutras et al. 2010). Empirical data to describe the survival and growth of such trees are limited, and most of the work has considered trees growing in field plots rather than actual residential settings (Watson et al. 1986; Morgenroth 2011). This work will help to quantify survival and growth of trees in residential settings.

It has been hypothesized that climate change will cause plant species ranges to shift northward with plants at the south end of ranges declining in vigor and growth rate. The purpose of this research is to test this hypothesis for red spruce and balsam fir along the southern end of the continuous distribution of these species, in Massachusetts. By measuring the growth patterns of these trees, we can determine if the southern end of the range has been declining, relative to more northern stands of these species.

. Natural and restored wetlands are among the most biodiverse ecosystems present in Massachusetts, providing unique habitat for species ranging from insects and endangered native fishes to coastal birds and songbirds, and plants which thrive in environments that range from completely saturated year-round to dry. Because this niche environment is crucially important for ecosystem services (including, but not limited to verdant habitat and food supply for a large diversity of plant, animal and insect species, water filtration, slowing and spreading of floodwaters, limiting erosion, storage of carbon and other nutrients, temperature buffering, pollinator habitat and forage lands, and water storage), significant attention has been paid to conserving and restoring wetlands and their optimum function wherever possible. One of the most basic, defining metrics of a wetland is, as the name implies, its wetness. The relative water content in the soil can be assessed in a variety of ways, and this quantity alone is important for reasons beyond wetland function. Specifically, for a wetland to become established and remain functional independently, sufficient water must be present throughout the year to favor wetland plants and animals, which thrive in wet environments but are unlikely to outcompete invasives or other species in drier regimes. We foresee a continued interest in wetland restoration in Massachusetts and predict that measurable metrics to assess the success of such restoration efforts are desired. To that end, we propose developing a series of tools to measure soil moisture and subsurface thermal regimes to monitor change over time.

This research will determine the environmental behavior and process of several types of manufactured nanomaterials. The results of this study are expected to help us understand how these manufactured nanomaterials interact with natural and synthetic molecules, and their fate, mobility, exposure and bioavailability in the environment.

This project will examine the effect of natural diversity on biofuel production efficiency by using a grass energy model organism (Brachypodium distachyon), and treatment with both biological and thermochemical conversion.

Acid rain and atmospheric pollution continue to be regional and national problems. The site's data contributes to the accurate assessment of precipitation chemistry and the effectiveness of the nation's air pollution laws and regulations.

This project uses experimental economics and stated preference surveys to address the the assumptions contained within incentive-based policies -- as well as evaluating alternative regulatory approaches and the management of common property.

Global climate change and nitrogen deposition are processes that will only increase as industrialization continues. The purpose of this study is to understand the response of the microbially driven soil nitrogen cycle to the combined effects of temperature increase and nitrogen amendments in forest soils of New England.

The goal of this project is to clarify the essential link between the best design and management practices for green infrastructure in new suburban residential developments, the actual results those practices achieve, and the value that residents place on the protected areas.

There is widespread interest in greening municipalities and increasing urban tree canopy cover, largely through local community-based tree planting initiatives. It is generally estimated that newly-installed (i.e. planted) trees require at least 3 or more years before establishment, when they resume pre-transplant growth rates. Most trees installed in the urban environment are dug from the nursery field with a spade, and wrapped in burlap and a metal basket ('balled and burlap' or 'B&B'). There is interest, however, by shade tree committee members and professional urban foresters alike, in planting trees grown using other easier-to-plant systems, including a variety of container-grown (CG, IGF) and bare-root (BR) tree production methods. Trees grown from these production systems, however, must have the potential to grow long-term and reach maturity to offer the numerous values associated with urban trees that include a variety of aesthetic, social, and environmental benefits.This may be a challenge, since urban environments often present very difficult growing conditions that habitually thwart tree growth and survival. Though advances in understanding have been made, empirical data to describe the survival and growth of such trees remains limited, with the preponderance of research considering trees growing in agricultural plots, rather than in urban settings. Since budget constraints are routinely identified as a key limiting factor relative to urban forest management practices, there is also a need for further information concerning the longer term costs associated with planting and maintaining urban trees. Collecting growth and maintenance cost data on established urban oak specimens in Amherst, MA, produced using various nursery systems will 1) add to the overall base of  knowledge concerning urban tree growth and survival 2) enable the quantification and further understanding of the relationship of urban tree growth/survival and nursery production system 3) Enable the quantification and further understanding of the long-term costs associated with planting and maintaining urban trees. The long-term goal of this work is to gather local, empirical data that will help urban forest practitioners consider the appropriate (i.e. most cost-effective, best-performing) nursery production system, when selecting trees for urban planting in Massachusetts communities.

With increased pressure to utilize more practical, ecological and economically feasible strategies to manage turfgrasses, research is needed to identify best management practices to preserve water resources. The primary goal is to increase sustainability of turfgrass by addressing water conservation issues, including (i) efficient irrigation strategies based on actual turfgrass water use, (ii) drought resistant species and cultivars, and (iii) an artificial wetland system to aid in preservation of water quality from managed turf settings.

The goal of this research is to gain better insight into the decision making process of Massachusetts forest-owning families in regards to the future of their land so that educators may tailor outreach programs and material to help these families make informed decisions about it. The cumulative effect of the independent decisions that these landowners make about their land will determine the future of our landscapes and the public benefits they continue to provide (or not to provide).