The new School of Biology and Ecology was formed in 2007 as a central home for research and teaching programs in organismal biology and ecology at the University of Maine. Our programs span biology in both scale (cellular to global) and discipline (developmental biology to ecology and biogeochemistry).
We recognize that meeting the challenges of today’s human and environmental health issues requires a solid foundation in organismal biology that encompasses the basic principles of anatomy, physiology, genetics, and development integrated with an understanding of ecosystems and evolutionary principles. Some of today’s broadest challenges facing science relate to changes that human activities are causing in the earth’s climate, landscapes, biogeochemical cycles, and ecosystem processes. These changes have consequences for ecosystem structure and function, agricultural and forestry production, and human health and disease. Our understanding of these issues advances through an effective integration of many different areas of science. Within the varied discipline of biology alone, principles derived from ecology, population biology, evolution and taxonomy, genetics, physiology, and organismal growth and development contribute to our collective understanding and enrich our thinking on complex issues. Their collective synthesis provides a powerful tool for future research on organisms, natural resources, ecological systems and health, all integral to a quality of life in Maine and throughout the world.
The School of Biology and Ecology serves the following goals:
Goal 1: Enhance Integrative Studies in Biology;
Goal 2: Serve a Central Mission of Biology: the Study of Organisms;
Goal 3: Serve as a Center of Excellence in Ecology.
The School of Biology and Ecology aims to achieve departmental breadth with course offerings that span level of organization from the cell to the ecosystem. Additionally, we maintain focal areas of expertise centered around the following research clusters:
Systematics and Evolutionary Biology:
Evolutionary theory is one of the foundations of modern biology. All levels of biological study, from the molecular through cellular, tissue, and organismal levels to the level of ecosystems, require consideration of the patterns and processes of evolution. Among SBE faculty, eight are investigating core evolutionary concepts as they apply to animals, plants, and fungi, including the origins of biodiversity, phylogenetic relationships of taxa at all levels of the hierarchy, from species groups to phyla, and the nature of evolutionary processes that continually shape species interactions with their environment.
Physiology and development biology lie at the core of advances in biomedical research. Seven SBE faculty members conduct research along these lines, variously studying mechanisms in the function of the heart, kidney, and sensory organs and in the molecular mechanisms underlying embryonic development of muscle and epithelial-mesenchymal interactions.
Integrative approaches to biology and ecology are so strong in the fields of development and genetics that new terms have been coined to accommodate them: Eco-Devo and Evo-Devo. SBE faculty in these fields use molecular and genetic tools to investigate problems such as genetics of behavior, the genetics and molecular biology of differentiation, cardiac pacemaker physiology, and the genetics of environmental adaptation.
Evolutionary Ecology, Behavioral Ecology, and Ecophysiology:
The relationships between between organisms and their environment can be investigated at a number of levels, from the physiological and behavioral responses of the individual to the broad ecological interactions of whole populations. Research by SBE faculty in the fields of behavioral ecology, ecological physiology, population biology, community ecology, and conservation biology all contribute to clarification of these relationships.
Maine has more lakes, miles of rivers, and acres of wetlands than all of the remaining New England states combined. These aquatic resources have provided ecosystem services to Maine residents since prehistory, and sustaining development in the State depends on thorough understanding of their ecology. The University is uniquely positioned to lead in research and education in aquatic ecology, in no small part through the strength of the SBE faculty focusing on this discipline.
Pest Management and Invasion Ecology:
Managing pests such as plant-infesting insects and fungi and controlling invasions of exotic species requires research tools from the molecular and physiological to the broadly ecological. The State of Maine has a natural-resource based economy that is heavily dependent on forestry, agriculture, and tourism, all of which are influenced by pest insects, fungi, and viral and other pathogens.
The School of Biology and Ecology focuses on three major educational goals:
- Maintaining broad-based degree programs in Biology;
- Developing and researching innovative teaching methods for the life sciences;
- Developing new degree programs in ecology.
Maintaining Broad-Based Degree Programs
The School of Integrative Biology and Ecology offers a comprehensive suite of undergraduate and graduate degrees.
Undergraduates at the School of Biology and Ecology pursue a wide variety of careers, in both basic and applied aspects of biology that range from cellular biology to ecology. A significant proportion of students plan to enter the health care field. The department provides a major academic home for students wishing to pursue pre-med and other health profession careers, and offers a Clinical Laboratory Sciences (CLS) program and a concentration in Pre-Medical Studies. Our Clinical Laboratory Sciences faculty coordinates with staff at EMMC to provide practical, hands-on experience for students in the CLS program, and the faculty members work with the pre-health professions advisor (Crisanne Blackie) and other units on campus to assure a strong basis in organismal biology necessary for success in these professions. The concentration in Pre-Medical Studies offers guidance to students preparing for a career in medicine or in any other health profession.Many of our students are interested in research careers with animals, plants, and fungi, careers in agriculture, and careers related to the environment. The School of Biology and Ecology recognizes the significance of a solid foundation in organismal biology integrated with an understanding of ecology and evolutionary principles in meeting today’s environmental and human health issues, and to meet this demand, SBE offers exceptional undergraduate degree programs in Biology, Zoology, Botany, and Clinical Sciences. The coursework required of each program is rigorous and spans the sub-disciplines of biology and ecology, including the basic principles of structure and function, physiology, genetics, and development. A key feature of these degree programs is the wide choice of courses to meet each of the required areas, allowing students a degree of freedom to design their degrees to reflect and engage their particular interests. SBE provides high quality basic introductory biology service courses (i.e. BIO 100, BIO 200, BIO 222, and BIO 208) for the biologically based disciplines within the College of Natural Sciences, Forestry, and Agriculture, the nursing program, and the University community as a whole. Additionally, students interested in ecology may select an Ecology concentration within the School of Biology and Ecology.
For graduate students, the School offers Master of Science (M.S.) degrees in Biological Sciences, Entomology, and Zoology, and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degrees in Biological Sciences and Zoology. SBE participates in interdisciplinary degree programs, such as Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Science, Masters in Botany and Plant Pathology and Masters and Doctoral degrees in Ecology and Environmental Sciences.
Developing and Researching Innovative Teaching Methods
The School of Biology and Ecology maintains a leadership role in providing major resources to the University and promoting science education at all levels while creating and researching innovative methods of teaching. Since 1964, faculty of this School (and the departments that merged to form it) have won major University teaching awards, including 4 Distinguished Maine Professor Awards, 2 Presidential Outstanding Teaching Awards, and 1 Inspiring Professor of the Year Award (given only once by Student Government). Specific efforts include the creation of a major initiative designed to improve learning outcomes in our large introductory courses, increase capacity in these courses, and in the future, work with others on campus (MST program and life sciences faculty in other units) to enhance training and outreach for K-12 science teaching.
Initiative in Teaching Innovation and Excellence in the Life Sciences
To meet the challenge of increased enrollments and a National STEM mandate to increase the effectiveness of learning in the sciences, we have launched a major Initiative in Teaching Innovation and Excellence in the Life Sciences.
Our Initiative in Teaching Innovation and Excellence in the Life Sciences builds on our success in having:
- A core faculty committed to research in teaching methods;
- A research and development facility, the Bio New Media Laboratory, creating innovative multimedia teaching tools;
- A powerful on-line platform we have built for assessing learning outcomes of large numbers of students.
Our Initiative focuses on increasing learning and enhancing outreach through:
- Continued research and development of innovative tools and teaching methods for our large introductory and upper-level courses;
- Continued efforts through external grants to improve University education and bring University resources to K-12 science;
- Collaboration with the Masters in Science Teaching program to attract strong graduate student candidates in biology while offering a forum for research in novel teaching methods in our introductory course lab sections;
- Exploring other opportunities for further collaborations for outreach in science education training, including offering additional Biology courses on- line and at the UMaine Hutchinson Center in Belfast, Maine.
Creating New Degree Programs in Ecology
One of the priorities of the newly formed School of Biology and Ecology is to develop a new undergraduate degree program in Ecology. This future degree will build on, and eventually replace, the ecology concentration in the EES degree program. It will be distinct from the degree in Wildlife Ecology by placing a stronger emphasis on basic aspects of ecology and maintaining a greater breadth, in plant, animal and microbial ecology from the population to the ecosystems level. It will be geared towards prospective students who are specifically interested in the subject, and will capitalize on the existing expertise of the faculty and the superior opportunities for ecological research that are a hallmark of Maine’s diverse terrestrial, aquatic, edaphic, and marine systems.
The School of Biology and Ecology is also exploring, in collaboration with colleagues within similar degree programs in the College (the graduate Ecology and Environmental Sciences Program, Wildlife Ecology, the School of Forest Resources, and the School of Marine Sciences, and others), the advantages of a new graduate program in Ecology that will grant both Master’s and Ph.D. degrees. Graduate degrees in Ecology will give many students who consider enrolling at the University of Maine an opportunity to better reflect the nature of their research and academic activities, and to form a more defined professional identity.
Both undergraduate and graduate mentoring within the School take full advantage of the newly created research clusters highlighted above. Each of these act as a cohesive unit that provides a central forum for all parties interested in relevant scholastic activities. As such, they offer organizational support for intellectual exchanges and foster interactions between students and faculty.
The School of Biology and Ecology is the place where business leaders, policy-makers, and the public in general come for up-to-date information on a wide variety of subjects related to biology. The School also supplies the knowledge and skills necessary for the successful creation of an economy that is based on technologically advanced and sustainable utilization of State’s natural resources. Research clusters pull together the expertise of individual faculty members and their research teams in an effort to address problems facing Maine residents. Emphasis on the integrative aspects of biology facilitate finding new and innovative approaches to problem-solving that might be lost when focusing on more narrow individual research fields. Increased visibility of ecology provides a clear ‘point of contact’ for interested stakeholders. SBE also highlights the importance of ecological approaches for sustainable economic activities, such as pest control, agriculture, aquaculture, or land development.