Monthly Archives: May 2016

Helping People, Help Rhinos


Left to Right: Andrea, Kyle Armstrong, and Karissa Bernoth blow off some steam during a particularly tough day in the field.

The path to one’s dreams is never a straight line. Along the way, we often run into speed bumps, detours, and of course, roadblocks. The people who make it to their final destination in life are often those who just can’t forget about that childhood dream. Andrea Kuchy is certainly that kind of person. From a young age, Andrea dreamed of traveling to Africa to study the wildlife that roam there. Unfortunately, most American universities don’t have an African wildlife major, so Andrea had to pave her own path. Her route through undergraduate involved multiple schools and a lot of time spent outside of the classroom. Throughout this multitude of experiences, Andrea was able to get involved in travel abroad in Africa to study wildlife and conservation in Tanzania. Then she got a job as undergraduate field researcher in Alaska studying climate change. It was these non-traditional experiences that really brought out Andrea’s passion for the natural world and eventually, brought her back to Africa for a post-graduate diploma in Johannesburg. Andrea was finally on the path she always felt she belonged on.


A rhino capture in a game reserve

It’s a good thing that Andrea never gave up on her dream of studying African wildlife because they could really use some help lately. Today, Andrea is working with Mark Neeham in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society,  trying to understand the motivations of people involved in rhinoceros poaching, and those trying to stop it, in South Africa. Over the past eight years, rhinoceros poaching has been on the rise despite newly implemented policies and interventions. In this case, the rhinoceros aren’t the only ones in danger; many park rangers, police officers, workers at reserves, and even farmers have come under attack by poachers lookingRhino-captured for weapons and rhino horns. Andrea is hoping that a scientific approach can bring the situation under control. She is compiling data on poaching, interviews with people involved, and conducting a thorough review of the history on rhinoceros poaching. For the sake of the all the people involved and the rhinoceros, Andrea’s research results can’t come soon enough.

Tune in this Sunday, May 29th at 7pm PST to hear Andrea tell us all about the plight of the rhinoceros on 88.7 KBVR.

Go play in the dirt!


Shannon harvesting potatoes in Corvallis, OR

Over the last five years the modern agricultural economy has become a hot topic to debate. As the population continues to grow, so to will the need to produce more food to feed the world. There are many ideas about how to meet this demand including organic farming, GMOs, hydroponics, among others. When most people discuss the pros and cons of different farming practices, the conversation usually centers around human health. How much pesticide is making it into my body? Are there more nutrients in organically grown produce? Was Monsanto involved? These are just some of the questions you’ve probably heard at your grocery store or local farmer’s market. Shannon Andrews has spent the last ten years working and researching in many disciplines within the agriculture industry and she’s asking a different question; how can we increase agronomic value and reduce the negative environmental impacts of agricultural production?


Corn harvest crew in Klamath Falls, OR

As it turns out, that is a very important question to be asking. Many of the farming practices that have enabled improvements in crop yield are also detrimental to the environment, specifically the soil. In an attempt to combat these ill effects, soil scientists are studying the effects of tilling, organic vs conventional farming, and nutrient retention in the soil, among other things. If we can better understand the impact of our farming practices, then we can potentially change or curtail them to generate a more sustainable agricultural economy. Shannon, and other soil scientists, are hoping to make further improvements to sustainable agriculture by creating recycled fertilizers that have reduced environmental impact and don’t affect crop yield.


Potatoes growing in Madras, OR. Crops in the front are growing without Nitrogen added, while the crops in the back are growing in algae fertilizer

With a diverse background of undergraduate studies in marine biology, wildlife biology, agricultural studies, and animal science, as well as work experience on a beef ranch and with trading commodities in the feedstock industry, Shannon has the knowledge to create these fertilizers of the future. All of these different experiences have led to a trifecta of exciting new ideas on how to improve the fertilizers used in farming. Through her master’s work, and now into her doctoral research, Shannon is working to optimize the soil chemistry for maximum crop growth and minimal environmental impact. Her early graduate school work with Dr. Dan Sullivan, studying soil pH showed that the use of sulfur in compost fertilizer makes it possible to grow blueberries, which turn out to be quite a fickle fruit. Shannon then turned her attention to another recycled fertilizer, algal meal, a waste product from algae-based biodiesel production. During her work in Dr. David Myrold’s lab, Shannon showed that algae based fertilizer has a reduced environmental impact while maintaining corn yields. Shannon is now finishing up her doctoral research by studying the water absorption properties of soil with Dr. Marcus Kleber and Dr. Maria Dragila.

After all her research and work experience, Shannon is uniquely positioned to study the agriculture industry. It will be important to consider perspectives from people like Shannon so that we can quantify and improve farming practices as we move forward in the 21st century. After all, agriculture is one of the most important industries in the world and that’s not about to change as the global population, and the need for food, increases.

We’ll talk with Shannon about her crop soil research and how she got into this field, Sunday May 22nd at 7pm PST on 88.7 KBVR-FM.

Finding your way to a better brain


Above: Paul setting up the LiDAR to image Austin Hall. Below: A human field of vision represented as a solid 3D object, as created by LiDAR

If someone dropped you in a new city and took away your smart phone, could you find your way to the nearest coffee shop? What if there was construction on your usual route to work and your phone battery was dead? Could you navigate a detour for yourself? The crop of students now entering college have lived all of their young adult lives constantly connected to the internet and all of the information contained within it. This means they have never had to remember any information, phone numbers, addresses, or directions for themselves. Technology has made our lives easier and more efficient in so many ways and turn-by-turn directions is most definitely near the top of that list of improvements. filledYet, one rarely discussed aspect of these technological advances is the impact our phones and the internet may be having on our brains. Paul Platosh, and other researchers, have taken notice and are working to understand the relationship between technology and our brains.

Working in Seunghae Lee‘s lab in the department of Human Environment and Design, Paul hopes to improve our understanding of how the brain responds to different navigational stimuli, but with a unique twist. Paul’s background is in design, meaning he has a rather unusual perspective on this research compared to most neuroscientists and psychologists. In a previous life, Paul worked to redesign the containers used at a grocery store and was even a Buckminster Fuller award finalist for this work. Now he hopes to bring some scientific rigor to the field of design and potentially improve human health using the world around us. To do this, Paul is combining his expertise in design, mapping technology from GIS, and psychology-based study methods.


An image of Paul generated by LiDAR

The basic premise of Paul’s research is simple. Give a college student some directions to follow via smart phone versus a head-up display and finally ask the student to re-draw the directions in as much detail as possible. The idea here is the head-up display will lead to more interaction with the real world environment and stimulate parts of the brain that are important to wayfinding. As it turns out, these same parts of the brain tend to accumulate protein aggregates in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Building on this link, Paul hopes to use the world around us, and how we interact with it, to improve the outcomes of the many people suffering from diseases of the brain.

To hear more about Paul’s journey from studio art to the hippocampus, tune in Sunday, May 15th at 7pm PST on 88.7 KBVR.


Intertidal Interdependence and Environmental Change


Low tide in the rocky intertidal ecosystem, near Depoe Bay Oregon. At the edge of the water is the “low zone”, where plants and algae thrive. Photo: Allie Barner

When you say “ecosystem”, most people think of a food chain. There are links in the chain, and each species is a link that keeps the chain together. This encourages a view of the world in which we see the importance of individual species. Traditionally, this means that when we try to understand how an ecosystem might react to a sudden environmental change we look at how individual species might react.

For Allie Barner, however, an ecosystem is more like a web. Each strand in the web is supported not just by one or two others, but by every other strand. In an ecosystem, the relationships between all species present are often just as important as any individual species’ role. This view, focusing on the ways in which species rely on one another to survive in their environment, is called community ecology. To better understand what it takes to keep an ecosystem healthy, Allie believes we need to move past a “who eats who” perspective and start thinking about communities of species as a whole. Losing even one species due to environmental change might destabilize an entire ecology.


While the tide is out, Allie and company rush to install an experiment that excludes all herbivorous animals to try to understand how animals that graze on plants and algae affect entire ecosystems. Photo: J. Robinson/PISCO

Allie, a graduate student in Oregon State’s Integrative Biology program studying under Bruce Menge and Sally Hacker, explores this at the Oregon coast. Out at the beach, Allie inspects the intertidal zones,  the areas that are sometimes submerged at high tide and sometimes exposed to the open air at low tide. Here a wide array of species are dependent on one another for survival, and they form an ecological web that is very sensitive to changes in the environment.

The rocky intertidal ecosystem in Oregon is incredibly diverse: in this picture there are dozens of species, from the greenish-yellow sponge, to the lettuce-like leafy red algae, to the large drooping kelp.

The rocky intertidal ecosystem in Oregon is incredibly diverse: in this picture there are dozens of species, from the greenish-yellow sponge, to the lettuce-like leafy red algae, to the large drooping kelp. Photo: Allie Barner

Today a pressing issue, especially in marine environments, is climate change. Ocean acidification, caused by excess Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere, is having a profound effect on many species and increasing water temperatures are quickly altering ecosystems that have existed in relative stasis for many thousands of years.

Allie’s goal is not only to understand how climate change might affect intertidal ecologies, though. Allie hopes to use her data to understand how ecosystems react to change in a more general sense. By seeing the similarities across ecosystems, even from something as small as an intertidal kelp bed and as large as a tropical forest, Allie believes we can begin to understand the deeper rules that govern the environment we live in. Only then can we begin to more deeply understand our impact on it.

To learn more about Allie’s research and her journey to graduate school, tune in this Sunday at 7PM, PST! You can stream the show live online, or listen to the interview live on the air at 88.7 KBVR FM, Corvallis!