Climate Change: Sea to Trees at Acadia National Park

Expedition Briefing


Download Packing List


The Research

Edges are always interesting places and Acadia National Park sits on the edge—the edge of the deciduous forest to the south and the boreal spruce-fir forest to the north. A particular edge of the sea—where a cold ocean current swooping in from the north meets warm moist continental air. And as climate change builds it affects all species differently—and for some on the edge it’s creating a tipping point.

Climate-related changes in Acadia National Park have altered the populations and behaviors of species and have affected their interactions. Over the past 120 years, the park has lost 18 percent of its native plant species (Green et al. 2005). More recently, within the past 50 years, the area has become home to more than 500 new insect species (Chandler et al. 2012), and the timing of bird migration has changed throughout the region (Miller-Rushing et al. 2008). These changes may be creating mismatches among predators and prey, plants and pollinators, and consumers and resources by changing the timing of when various species need a resource and when that resource is available. For example, fruits that ripen earlier may fall or be predated by insects before birds on migration can get to them (Primack and Miller-Rushing 2012). These mismatches are one of the primary ways in which climate change is contributing to the decline and extinction of some plant and animal populations (Cahill et al. 2013).

Ocean acidification and warming—which affect the ecology and physiology of intertidal species (Kroeker et al. 2013)—are having a negative effect on the marine ecosystems of Acadia. For example, ocean acidification and warming can disrupt important ecological interactions, such as predator-prey relationships and interspecific competition, in marine ecosystems. While the effects of ocean acidification and warming on some species (especially those that are commercially important such as clams and oysters) have been well studied in Maine—there is limited evidence available for many others, including important intertidal species, such as snail and algal species.

The Acadia region relies on its natural resources and tourism for much of its economy. These rapid ecological changes are critical for visitors and residents to acknowledge and understand so they can help to preserve this iconic national park. Long-term monitoring coupled with question-driven research yields critical insights for truly understand the impact of these changes, which is what makes citizen science so important to the success of this study.

Research Aims

The primary aims of the project, which are critical to Acadia National Park because of their importance to the long-term preservation of natural resources, are to:

  1. Investigate the interactions among birds, insects, and fruits, and determine the extent of mismatch in when each is most active and abundant.
  2. Investigate the effects of ocean acidification and ocean warming on intertidal organisms and communities (Ignite team only).
  3. Examine shifts in forest and intertidal community composition and structure.
  4. Improve science literacy and environmental stewardship among participants.

Changes in temperature and precipitation are known to cause shifts in the flowering and fruiting of plant species. Those shifts, in turn, may lead to a flower blooming before its main pollinator arrives on the scene, or make it harder for birds to find the fruits when they need them. Scientists are just now trying to decipher what this means for natural communities.

During the study, the research team will aim to answer the following questions related to mismatches:

  • How does bird, insect, and fruit abundance vary during fall migration? Are their seasonal patterns similar across years or are they changing because of climate change? Are their seasonal patterns synchronous or do birds arrive once fruit and insects have started to decline?
  • What are the common fruits in Acadia and what bird species consume them? Are different fruits common at different points in the summer and fall? Is fruit a bigger part of bird diet than insects? Does the bird diet change over fall migration?

Increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere is leading to ocean acidification—an increase in CO2 in the water, leading to higher levels of acidity, which can impact shell-bearing, calcifying animals. Combined with increases in the temperature of ocean waters, these altered physical conditions can affect their survival rates. On top of this, invasive species such as green crabs are potentially disrupting food web dynamics.

The research team will aim to answer the following questions related to ocean acidification and warming (OAW):

  • What is the community structure in the intertidal system and how is it changing over time in response to introduced species and altered thermal and chemical conditions?
  • How are aspects of the intertidal system such as pH, temperature, and salinity changing over time?
  • Are predator/prey relationships affected by pH variation?

Acadia includes multiple large and small offshore islands that provide habitat for many plant and animal species, some of which are rare in Maine due to their links to boreal forest communities located to the north. Several of these islands were inhabited by the early settlers to the coast of Maine and have an intensive land use history. In the early 1990s Earthwatch participants inventoried several of the islands around Acadia. We are adding to the research of 25 years ago by looking across our diverse habitats—from the island forests into the intertidal to examine the impact of climate change in a place less impacted by modern park visitation. The data collected will be used for comparisons with ecosystem dynamics from long-term monitoring of mainland and island sites within the park.

How You Will Help

As an Earthwatch participant, you will be involved in several types of activities: conducting field work in forests looking at mismatches among birds, insects, and plants or documenting changes in island vegetation (forest and intertidal) dynamics; conducting both field and lab work looking at the effects of ocean acidification on intertidal communities (Ignite team only); working in both the forest and intertidal studying community compositions; and, possibly, transcribing data from historical records related to this work, as opportunity permits.


You will visit plots of land to observe phenology, which includes counting the abundance of fruits on shrubs and sampling insects to obtain their biomass. Both fruit and insects are key food sources for migrating birds. Researchers will analyze the data to detect changes in food availability and how that matches changes in food demand by birds, based on where they are in their life cycle (breeding, post- breeding, migration). This phenology research work will occur throughout the field season.


You will observe and measure species in the intertidal zone. You may also deploy and collect settlement plates and set up quadrats to determine the species that are present, including mussels, periwinkles, barnacles, several species of seaweed, and more. Back in the lab, you will be identifying and recording information about species collected on settlement plates in the intertidal zone. 


In the early 1990s Earthwatch participants inventoried several islands around Acadia. In 2020 we will return to one or more of these islands and collect the same data more than 25 years later. We will add to the work of those earlier Earthwatch teams by extending our work into the intertidal zone. You will learn and identify forest edge and intertidal zone species, as well as some of the bird species that visit or inhabit this edge. You may also hunt for crabs in the intertidal, counting the number of invasive green crabs and native Jonah crabs. This research will only be conducted by the Ignite team in early July.


If we experience inclement weather that keeps us from going into the field, you may be involved in transcribing historical records related to the occurrence, abundance, and phenology of forest birds, insects, and plants, and intertidal communities to determine if communities have changed over the last several decades. Mining through these archival records can reveal a treasure of valuable natural history observations that can provide a valuable comparative baseline with which to compare current patterns to.

Life in the Field

Upon arrival, you’ll receive a safety briefing and a presentation on local history, conservation priorities for Acadia National Park, local examples of global issues, and a framework for all the project’s key protocols. When we begin our fieldwork, project staff will introduce and demonstrate each new task. We’ll work with you until you’re comfortable with any new activities. We will also supervise to ensure data quality. You will spend your days in the forest, and among tidal pools and rock benches along the beautiful Maine coast, and during free time you will have the opportunity to explore the spectacular Schoodic Peninsula portion of Acadia National Park.


While there is no typical day in the field our ‘typical’ day will be: Breakfast, a briefing of the work to be done for the day, the safety considerations involved with the work, and how the scientists will be using the data we will be collecting. We will follow this up by assembling our field gear, gathering our lunches, and heading into the field. We will spend most of our days in the field gathering data for our research. We may use citizen science apps, such as iNaturalist, to collect data on the abundance and diversity of forest plants, intertidal organisms, and birds. Some teams may work along the forest edge collecting field measurements of trees and soil depth. We may observe behavior and record bird sounds, deploy and collect insect traps, and count and measure the quality of fruit on different types of plants. We will have lunch in the field and complete our field work before heading back to the lab to add our data to the database and prepare for the next day's fieldwork. After our fieldwork, we will listen to a pre-dinner talk from one of the scientists on the project. In the evenings, you will have time to relax and hang out, journal, take pictures, watch for moths or other evening wildlife, and stargaze.

If they want, volunteers can submit observations of moths (and other species) drawn to the buildings' exterior lights and post them here: The project now has over 1,500 species confirmed, with many more awaiting more rigorous species identification!



  • Arrival at Bar Harbor Airport
  • Travel to Schoodic Institute
  • Settle into accommodations, orientation, and team dinner
  • Project introduction and safety overview


  • Introduction to research site and lab, research methods, and species identification training.
  • Safety briefing
  • Collect data on fruit availability, intertidal and forest biodiversity.


  • Continue data collection on fruit availability and island biodiversity.
  • Learn and use iNaturalist and Nature’s Notebook to collect additional biodiversity and phenology data.
  • Assist with researchers collecting bird data, collect and process insect traps.
  • 1–2 research presentations or lectures.


  • Departure from Schoodic Institute

Driving: If you have driven yourself to the project, you may not drive your own vehicle to, from, or for project activities, or to transport project equipment. Earthwatch discourages you from transporting other participants during recreational time. Riding in another participant’s vehicle is also at your own risk as it is not covered under the expedition’s insurance policy.

Accommodations and Food

* Please note that not every expedition has couples’ or single's accommodations available. Please call or email Earthwatch to check for availability prior to reserving your space(s) on the team.


The team will share bedrooms in a bunkhouse at the Schoodic Education and Research Center (SERC) campus in Acadia National Park. The campus is the largest National Park Service research learning center in the United States. Until 2002, the building that now houses the education and research center was a U.S. Navy base.

* Earthwatch will honor each person’s assertion of gender identity, respectfully and without judgement. For both teen and adult teams, where logistics dictate single-sex accommodations or other facilities, participant placements will be made in accordance with the gender identity the participant specified on their Earthwatch Participant form and/or preferences indicated in discussions with Earthwatch.


The bunkhouse has male and female shower rooms—each with two showers and a toilet—as well as two individual bathrooms.


You are welcome to bring your own electronic equipment (cell phones, digital cameras, laptops, etc.), you may be required to limit your use of laptops to recreational time only. You will be asked to use your phone for some apps such as iNaturalist, Nature’s Notebook, and or eBird.


The campus is equipped with Wi-Fi capability.


The main field sites will all be within walking distance of the campus, no more than one mile away. For any trips to field sites farther away, we will use a van.


Participants will eat together with research staff and sometimes with other science groups on campus. Breakfast and Dinner are served cafeteria style. Bag lunches are eaten in the field.

The following are examples of foods you may find in the field. Variety depends on availability. We appreciate your flexibility.

  • Breakfast: Eggs, pancakes, french toast, bagels, yogurt, granola and fresh fruit
  • Lunch: Bag lunches: sandwich, fruit, cookie or bar, and chips
  • Dinner: Pot roast, baked chicken, lasagna, breads, salad bar, and dessert
  • Beverages: Coffee, tea, tap water, soda, iced tea, and lemonade

Please alert Earthwatch to any special dietary requirements (e.g., diabetes, lactose intolerance, nut or other food allergies, vegetarian or vegan diets) as soon as possible, and note them in the space provided on your participant forms.

This project can cater for vegetarian diets easily, as well as vegan, halal, gluten-free, and lactose-free diets.

Project Conditions


For weather and region-specific information, please visit and search for your project location.

Essential Eligibility Requirements

All participants must be able to:

  • Take an active role in your own safety by recognizing and avoiding hazards if and when they arise (including, but not limited to, those described in Earthwatch materials and safety briefings). Comply with project staff instructions and recommended safety measures at all times.
  • Be able to effectively communicate to the staff if you are experiencing distress or need assistance.
  • Be comfortable being surrounded by a language and/or culture that is different from your own.
  • Be able to get along with a variety of people from different backgrounds and ages, often in close proximity, for the duration of your team.
  • Follow verbal and/or visual instructions independently or with the assistance of a companion.
  • Enjoy being outdoors most of the day in variable weather, in the potential presence of wild animals.
  • Tolerate cold temperatures and rain,
  • Traverse wet, slippery, rocky terrain.
  • Get low (generally squat, kneel or sit) on barnacle-covered coastal rocks.
  • Move through low, thick vegetation over variable terrain.
  • Carry personal daily supplies such as lunch, water, and some small field equipment.
  • Sit upright in a 15-passenger van.

Health and Safety


Earthwatch has a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week emergency hotline number. Someone is always on call to respond to messages that come into our live answering service.


Please be sure your routine immunizations are up-to-date (for example: diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella) and you have the appropriate vaccinations for your travel destination. Medical decisions are the responsibility of each volunteer and his or her doctor. Visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention or the World Health Organization for guidance on immunizations.

If traveling from countries or region where yellow fever is endemic, you must have a certificate of vaccination.

Project Risks and Precautions


We will travel on public roads in a quiet area with few traffic issues, but risks inherent in road travel still apply. All participants will have a seat belt and must wear it whenever the vehicle is in motion. A roadside assistance service will be called if a vehicle breaks down.


You will be walking along a rocky coastline and hiking along well-trod paths. Some areas are very well protected from the elements, while others are exposed. Additionally, you will also be walking off-trail, in sometimes thick, low to waist high vegetation or over loose rocks and seaweed. Participants must wear shoes with good grip to avoid slipping and long pants (not capris).


Biting and stinging insects and ticks are present. Participants will be briefed on how to inspect for tick bites daily. Participants with allergies should bring an Epi-Pen.


Participants may walk through areas with dense vegetation and poison ivy (although poison ivy is very uncommon in the Schoodic Peninsula section of Acadia), so all participants should wear clothing that covers the arms and legs.

Project Tasks/ Equipment

Hands should always be washed after being in the field, especially before eating. Participants are encouraged to take regular breaks and to avoid overexerting themselves. Teamwork and attention to proper technique will keep you from wearing out or getting injured. Inform a staff member immediately if you are feeling tired or ill.

Personal Security

Acadia National Park is a generally safe region for travelers; however, do not leave valuables unattended in public areas.


No swimming is allowed in the Schoodic Peninsula section of Acadia National Park.

Distance from Medical Care

There is generally a park ranger on duty during daytime hours who can provide first responder services. The local police, fire, and ambulance are also nearby and can respond reasonably quickly.


Please see below for immunization recommendations. Most diseases are prevented with basic safety cautions. Please see the CDC ( or WHO ( websites for more information. Diseases present in this region of the U.S. include, but are not limited to, Lyme disease, rabies, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, pertussis, and West Nile Fever.

Travel Planning

RENDEZVOUS LOCATION: Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport, Trenton, ME

* Additional information will be provided by Earthwatch to meet your team. Please do not book travel arrangements such as flights until you have received additional information from Earthwatch.


Earthwatch strongly recommends that travelers investigate their destination prior to departure. Familiarity with the destination’s entry/exit requirements, visas, local laws, and customs can go a long way to ensuring smooth travel. The U.S. Department of State's Traveler’s Checklist and Destination Guides are helpful resources. For LGBTI travelers, the U.S. Department of State's LGBTI Travelers page contains many useful tips and links.


Entry visa requirements differ by country of origin, layover, and destination, and do change unexpectedly. For this reason, please confirm your visa requirements at the time of booking and, again, 90 days prior to travel. Please apply early for your visa (we recommend starting 6 months prior to the start of your expedition). Refunds will not be made for volunteers cancelling due to not obtaining their visa in time to meet the team at the rendezvous. You can find up to date visa requirements at the following website:

If a visa is required, participants should apply for a TOURIST visa. Please note that obtaining a visa can take weeks or even months. We strongly recommend using a visa agency, which can both expedite and simplify the process.

Generally, passports must be valid for at least six months from the date of entry and a return ticket is required.


  • Walden Warming (Richard Primack)
  • The Edge of the Sea (Rachel Carson)
  • The Incidental Steward: Reflections on Citizen Science (Akiko Busch)
  • The Homing Instinct (Bernd Heinrich)
  • Marine Life of the North Atlantic: Canada to Cape May (Andrew Martinez)
  • A Coastal Companion: A Year in the Gulf of Maine, from Cape Cod to Canada. (Catherine Schmitt)
  • Ocean Acidification (Jean-Pierre Gattuso & Lina Hansson)
  • Cahill, A.E., M.E. Aiello-Lammens, M.C. Fisher-Reid, X. Hua, C.J. Karanewsky, H. Yeong Ryu, G.C. Sbeglia, F. Spagnolo, J.B. Waldron, O. Warsi, and J.J. Wiens. 2013. How does climate change cause extinction? Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 280.
  • Chandler, D. S., D. Manski, C. Donahue, and A. Alyokhin. 2012. Biodiversity of the Schoodic Peninsula: Results of the insect and arachnid bioblitzes at the Schoodic District of Acadia National Park, Maine. Maine Agricultural and Forest Experiment Station, University of Maine, Orono, ME.
  • Greene, C. W., L. L. Gregory, G. H. Mittelhauser, S. C. Rooney, and J. E. Weber. 2005. Vascular flora of the Acadia National Park region, Maine. Rhodora 107:117–185.
  • Kroeker, K.J., R. L. Kordas, R. Crim, I.E. Hendriks, L. Ramajo, G. S. Singh, C.M. Duarte. 2013.Impacts of ocean acidification on marine organisms: quantifying sensitivities and interaction with warming. Global Change Biology (2013) 19, 1884–1896.
  • Miller-Rushing, A. J., D. W. Inouye, and R. B. Primack. 2008a. How well do first flowering dates measure plant responses to climate change? The effects of population size and sampling frequency. Journal of Ecology 96:1289–1296.
  • Miller-Rushing, A. J., T. L. Lloyd-Evans, R. B. Primack, and P. Satzinger. 2008b. Bird migration times, climate change, and changing population sizes. Global Change Biology 14:1959–1972.
  • Primack, R.B. and A.J. Miller-Rushing. 2012. Uncovering, collecting, and analyzing records to investigate the ecological impacts of climate change: A template from Thoreau’s Concord. BioScience 62:170–181.