As hikers trek through Oak Creek, they might notice its beautiful, crystal clear water, or Douglas-firs that line the banks. But when Assistant Professor Catalina Segura looks at Oak Creek, she sees something iconic – something famous in her world of stream geomorphology.
“I knew about Oak Creek before I knew about Oregon State University or Corvallis,” she says. “It’s famous because of the work done there. A very impressive data set was collected there in the late 60s and early 70s. There’s not much else like it in the world.”
Segura now feels privileged to conduct her own research, related to primary production in streams, at this site.
Segura says primary production provides the fundamental source of energy for life on earth, and therefore understanding what controls primary production is key to understanding ecosystems. Most of the primary production in streams like Oak Creek come from algae that lives on rocks. That’s why it’s crucial to understand how the movement of rocks in the stream bottom interacts with algae locally and throughout the stream’s reach.
Segura works with Associate Professor Dana Warren on a project funded by the National Science Foundation. Two sites are being compared: Oak Creek and Mill Creek, a tributary of the Siletz River in the Coastal Range.
Segura says the rocks in each of these streams are very different. The rocks in Oak Creek are basalt and coarser, while the rocks in Mill Creek are sandstone and finer.
The researchers, together with graduate student Samantha Cargill, collected data on oxygen and used that to model the amount of primary production by algae on rocks.
“Now that we understand what happens during storm events in the winter when the water runs quickly and the rocks in the bottom move frequently, we can think about seasonal variability. We have a new post-doctoral fellow, Sandra Villamizar, who will take the project in this new direction.” In the meantime, several sensors for this project remain in Oak Creek. They are monitored intermittently. Segura also takes her classes to Oak Creek so undergraduate and graduate students can observe the research happening there.
“I tell my students about how we collect data and take them to those locations. We look at flow measurements and do a few different labs in the forest,” she says. “Logistically, I appreciate how convenient it is. You can visit Oak Creek as frequently as you want, and it makes it easy to integrate teaching and research.”
Segura says there are also benefits to Oak Creek being inside a managed forest, managed by the College of Forestry.
“The forest director, Professor Stephen Fitzgerald, has helped facilitate our research by doing things like restricting access to the stream at sensitive times,” she says.
The other study area near the Siletz was also convenient. It is located partially on tribal land, and partially on Weyerhaeuser property.
“Last year we were able to host high school students and teachers through the SMILE: Science Math Investigative Learning Experience program,” Segura says. “We trained the teachers in different modules to take back to their classes, and that was very gratifying. It’s amazing that so many people can benefit from the interesting work we’re doing thanks to our location.”
A version of this story appeared in the Spring 2020 issue of Focus on Forestry, the alumni magazine of the Oregon State University College of Forestry. Learn more about College of Forestry research facilities and collaborations.