Graduate Student Climate Adaptation Partners (GradCAP)

A graduate student from the University of Maine overlooks her research field in the setting sun

A project designed to build a virtual consortium of Masters and Doctoral students working on climate adaptation in agriculture and forestry.

Nominated by a university partner within the USDA Northeast Climate Hub network, GradCAP scholars work with Climate Hub leadership, university representatives, and coordinating staff at the University of Maine to develop a digital library of information and a webinar series based on their research. This unique program offers participating students networking opportunities with project leadership across institutions and provides a means to spark new ideas in a collaborative setting.

2018 GradCAP Webinar Series

Beginning in October, the GradCAP scholars will each present their current research in a series of bi-weekly webinars. These meetings are open to the public and will be archived online for later viewing. We hope you’ll tune in! 

Soils and Plant Growth 

October 2, 2018, 2-3pm 

This GradCAP webinar will feature presentations on soil carbon dynamics, beneficial rhizobacteria, and plant temperature tolerance. Presenters: Brooke Eastman, Sarah Mills, and Bill Erickson

Changing Ecosystems

October 18, 2018, 12-1pm

This GradCAP webinar will feature presentations on sustainable watershed utilization, changing soil moisture on farms, and shifting bird habitats. Presenters: Manashi Paul, Sonja Birthisel and Gordon Dimmig

Farms and Farmer Decisions 

October 30, 2018, 2-3pm

This GradCAP webinar will feature presentations on farmer decision-making, hayfield management, and crop yield modeling. Presenters: Alissa White, Brogan Tooley and Mike Allen


November 15, 2-3pm

This GradCAP webinar will feature presentations on temperature and surfclam rearing, and the use of kelp farming to dampen ocean waves. Presenters: Mike Acquafredda and Longhuan Zhu

Changing Farm Management

November 27, 10-11am 

This GradCAP webinar will feature presentations on changing plant disease pressures, and managing soil for mitigation. Presenters: Kyle M. Dittmer and Joe Walls

Stakeholder Beliefs and Actions

December 7, 12-1pm 

This GradCAP webinar will feature presentations on fostering climate resilience in farming and forestry through stakeholder engagement. Presenters: Ruth Sexton and Alyssa Soucy

Meet the 2018 GradCAP Scholars 

The current cohort of 15 GradCAP scholars represent six USDA Northeast Climate Hub partner institutions, that range geographically from West Virginia to Maine.

Michael Acquafredda

Expanding Aquaculture Opportunities through Ecologically-sound Diversification
Rutgers University : Ecology and Evolution Graduate Program (Haskin Shellfish Research Laboratory) 

Michael Acquafredda is a third year PhD candidate and is advised by Dr. Daphne Munroe. He is an advocate for sustainable aquaculture practices that are beneficial to farmers and aquatic ecosystems, alike. Specifically, Mike is studying husbandry techniques for the Atlantic surfclam (Spisula solidissima), which has the potential to become an alternate crop species grown on shellfish farms throughout the Northeast. Since the coastal waters of this region are warming due to global climate change, Mike is also investigating the heritability of heat-tolerance in surfclams. Additionally, Mike is studying interspecific competition among four ecologically and economically important bivalves in order to assess the viability of bivalve polyculture. 

Michael C. Allen

Conservation Policy for Grassland Birds in Agricultural Landscapes
Rutgers University : Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources

Michael's research attempts to better understand the interconnections between climate, economics, hayfield management, and grassland bird population ecology. The goal is to identify effective conservation measures that are economically viable and minimally impact farmers and food production. Michael is generally interested in the conservation implications of how complex systems such as agriculture and natural ecosystems interact and respond to global change.

Sonja K. Birthisel

Ecological Weed Management in a Changing Climate
University of Maine : Ecology and Environmental Sciences Program 

Sonja is a fourth year PhD student at the University of Maine, doing research to help diversified vegetable farmers find environmentally sustainable weed management solutions. Her dissertation explores climate change impacts on weed communities and management. Sonja is passionate about applied, stakeholder-driven research, and you can find out more on her website.

Gordon Dimmig 

Temporal Dynamics of Songbirds along an Elevational Gradient in the Appalachian Mountains
West Virginia University : Wildlife and Fisheries Resources

Gordon is a graduate research assistant at West Virginia University studying birds in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia. In particular, he is using a long term dataset to assess songbird temporal dynamics on an elevational gradient to see if certain species may be moving up or down in elevation. Additionally, Gordon is evaluating which environmental factors predict Canada Warbler occupancy in the southern extent of their breeding distribution. When Gordon is not researching birds, he will often be found birding for fun, hiking, or fly fishing.

Kyle M. Dittmer

Mitigating Gaseous Carbon and Nitrogen Losses from Northeastern Agricultural Soils via Alternative Soil Management Practices
University of Vermont : Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources 

Kyle is a second year Masters student at the University of Vermont (UVM) researching the potential for best management practices (i.e., conservation tillage, alternative manure application methods/timing, and cover cropping) to mitigate nutrient losses via greenhouse gasses from agricultural soils without compromising soil fertility or crop yield. Additionally, Kyle will be studying the molecular mechanisms responsible for nitrous oxide emissions from agricultural soils and how these fluxes are impacted by management practices. His overall research goal is to provide farmers with sustainable soil management practices that will retain nutrients within soils, thereby providing farmers with ideal crop yields/revenue while also improving environmental quality.

Brooke Eastman

Forest Carbon Feedback to Environmental Change
West Virginia University : Biology

Brooke is a second year Biology PhD student at West Virginia University. She is interested in exploring how human actions are influencing terrestrial ecosystems to inform climate change mitigation and land management policies. Brooke's research focuses on the effects of elevated nitrogen deposition on complex carbon and nitrogen dynamics, with a special focus on belowground processes. 

William J. Errickson

Utilizing Native Endophytic Bacteria to Reduce Abiotic Stress in Crops
Rutgers University : Plant Biology Program

William is a second year PhD student at Rutgers University studying the potential benefits of native endophytic soil bacteria in alleviating abiotic stress and promoting growth in various commercial plant species. Abiotic stresses such as heat, drought, and salinity are all exacerbated by climate change, reducing the yield and quality of crops. William’s research explores the diverse beneficial compounds produced by native soil bacteria and how they can be used to reduce plant stress in field applications throughthe development of inoculants and biofertilizers.

Sarah A. Mills

Increasing Temperature on Flower Development of Northern Highbush Blueberry
West Virginia University : Horticulture

Sarah is a graduate student at West Virginia University studying the effects of abiotic stresses on horticultural crop production. Her research utilizes controlled environments (greenhouse and growth chambers) to manipulate abiotic factors such as carbon dioxide, temperature and water to examine the effect of those combinatory factors on growth and development of horticultural crops, and ultimately to decipher the mechanisms of plants’ response to climate change. Sarah is particularly interested in the interaction of abiotic stresses on phenology at the phenotypic and genotypic level.

Manashi Paul

Integration of Hydrologic Modeling for Sustainable Water Reuse in Water-stressed Watersheds
University of Maryland : Environmental Science and Technology Department

Manashi is a second-year Ph.D. student in the University of Maryland (UMD) College Park Water Security and Sustainability Lab. She is a CONSERVE Scholar, working on sustainable water and food security. Manashi’s research focuses on sustainable water reuse in agricultural watersheds where high-quality water is not sufficient for irrigation due to ongoing climate variability and population growth. She uses hydrological modeling, GIS, and statistical analysis to solve problems that will help stakeholders involved in the implementation of water reuse programs.

Ruth Sexton

Assessing Climate Perceptions and Developing Adaptation Resources for Small, Medium and Beginning Farms
University of Maine : School of Food and Agriculture 

Ruth is pursuing a Master's at the University of Maine after recently graduating with degrees in Biology and Global Studies from a small liberal arts school in Minnesota. This background, along with previous research and internship experiences, have peaked her interest in how agricultural research can be applied to sustainable community and farm development, and vice versa. Specifically, Ruth aims to ask questions about how smaller-scale growers can adapt and improve farming practices in the face of climate change while reducing detrimental impacts on the environment.

Alyssa Soucy

Fostering Forest Resources Climate Change Resilience
University of Maine: Forest Resources

Alyssa is a first year Masters student at the University of Maine studying forest stakeholder awareness of climate change. This project combines survey data and climate modeling to assess and enhance the resilience of forest socio-ecological systems to climate change. A key and final component of this project is identifying best management strategies to increase forest resilience through participatory workshops.

Brogan Tooley

Climate Adaptation Strategies for Potato and Grain Systems
University of Maine : Plant, Soils and Environmental Science Program 

Brogan is a second year Masters student at the University of Maine, where she is using a crop simulation model to assess climate adaptation strategies for potato and grain systems. The project includes calibrating the crop simulation model for potato-barley production in Maine, using experimental field data. The model will then be used to assess the likely impacts of potential climate change and weather variability on crop yield, and evaluate risk-reduction strategies under various climate scenarios. Brogan is enthusiastic about the potential to explore long-term adaptive management with the use of process-based biophysical models.

Joseph T. Walls III

Virus Evolution and Plant Defenses to Viruses under Climate Change
Pennsylvania State University : Plant Pathology Program 

The goal of Joseph's research is to determine the effects of climate change on virus evolution and plant defenses against viruses. Specifically, he works with tomato spotted wilt orthotospovirus (TSWV) in tomato. He tracks changes in abscisic acid, jasmonic acid, and salicylic acid plant hormones with virus infection and various climatic conditions. In 2018 he was awarded a Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education graduate student grant to pursue a project that involves using plant hormones as a method of controlling TSWV.

Alissa C. White

Bridging the Climate Information Usability Gap in Agriculture
University of Vermont : Department of Plant and Soil Science

Alissa is a Masters student at the University of Vermont in the Department of Plant and Soil Science studying agricultural adaptation to climate change in the Northeastern U.S. Alissa’s research engages stakeholders in co-producing information that supports adaptive management decisions on farms. Her work draws upon interviews with extension professionals, surveys and focus groups with farmers to examine capacity building for climate resilience form diverse epistemological perspectives. 

Longhuan Zhu

Modeling Wave Attenuation Through Kelp Farms
University of Maine : Civil Engineering Program

Longhuan is a third year PhD student at the University of Maine, doing research to develop viable, sustainable, and cost-effective strategies for coastal protection. His dissertation assesses the capacity of seaweed aquaculture farms to damp wave energy and protect shorelines as well as their contributions to climate change adaptation.