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UMFK Professor Steve Selva awarded Trustee Professorship

May 27, 2005


University of Maine at Fort Kent professor of biology and environmental studies and world-renowned lichenologist Steven Selva, has been awarded a trustee professorship by the University of Maine System.

The announcement of the $12,500 award came recently from Chancellor Joseph Westphal, and will support a research project submitted by Selva.

Trustee professorships are designed to honor and support University of Maine System faculty already making noteworthy contributions toward understanding their respective field, and to promote academic excellence on their campus.

Selva will participate in a project that will result in a comprehensive survey and inventory of the diverse group of organisms present in the tree canopy biodiversity of the Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.

He will join a research team of experts, who will identify and assume responsibility for the specimens collected and serve as mentors who will give special lectures, slide shows, hands-on identification of specimens, and field demonstrations to aid students working on the project in the recognition of specimens.

"As a member of the multidisciplinary research team responsible for identifying and curating organisms collected in the forest canopy, my specific responsibility is for a group of old-growth forest indicator species known, collectively, as the calicioid lichens," said Selva.

The UMFK faculty member's first opportunity to introduce prospective student climbers/collectors and other interested parties to this group of organisms was a year ago at an event billed as the first "Lichen BioQuest in Great Smoky Mountains National Park".

At that event, Selva and a fellow lichenologist presented lectures, hands-on activities and demonstrations, as well as led a field trip to three locations in the park where participants were invited to collect specimens for identification.

During that session, Selva himself collected seven calicioid specimens, four of which turned out to be new park records. When added to those previously known for the park, the total comes to nine.

"To put that number in perspective, I have collected 38 species of calicioid lichens and fungi in Baxter State Park here in Maine and expect to find at least than many in Great Smoky Mountains National Park," said Selva.

Field work will be conducted by Selva during the last two weeks of July. Species identifications and assessment of the data is expected to last through the fall semester of 2005 and into January of 2006, with a final written report completed by February 1.

Specimens collected by Selva and students working on the project, will be added to North America's largest collection of so-called "stubble lichen" and the largest set of lichens from old-growth forests of northeastern North America, which are housed on the UMFK campus, and available to researchers around the world through an on-line database maintained by the University.

UMFK's lichen herbarium includes approximately 60,000 specimens of the plant comprised of a fungus and an alga that is typically found growing on trees. The vast collection, housed in gray cabinets on the second floor of Cyr Hall, is included in the international registry of herbaria.

"The University of Maine at Fort Kent's lichen collection, like herbarium collections elsewhere, are the basis for our understanding of biological diversity and the interactions taking place in natural ecosystems. It is the responsibility of institutions like ours, that house and maintain such collections, to provide access to these specimens and associated data for research by those who wish to use them," said Selva.

According to Selva, as the collection records and associated data from this study become more widely available to researchers, UMFK will benefit from the prestige associated with housing such an important collection.

In addition, students involved with the project directly will be provided a rich practical learning experience, while those enrolled in related courses will benefit by being taught by a teacher who speaks from experience.

Selva, with the assistance of students in his lichenology class, first began collecting and recording information on the plants in 1977, when he began his tenure at UMFK.

The vast majority of the specimens in the university herbarium to date, however, were collected as part of an ongoing research project, begun in 1986, in which lichens are being used to assess the ecological continuity of northern hardwoods and spruce-fir forests in northern New England and Maritime Canada.

Through the years, Selva's research and collection have earned national recognition. His ongoing project has received outside funding from such reputable groups as the National Geographic Society, The Nature Conservancy, the Northeastern Forest Experiment Station, the Sweet Water Trust, and Parks Canada.

"I am looking forward to testing my methodology and hypotheses in a new region of the continent," said Selva. "Given the extent of the old-growth forests in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the fact that so few calicioid lichens and fungi have been collected there, the potential for finding new state or regional records, or perhaps a species or two new to science, are not out of the question. And discoveries like that are always personally and professionally rewarding."