Author Archives: Chelsea Behymer

Rethinking oyster reef restoration and coastal community resilience: The use of biomimicry and outreach to offset the growing risk of invasive species

“I like to think of them as the corals of estuaries,” says Megan Considine as she describes the role that oysters play in coastal systems all over the world. Megan is a first-year Marine Resource Management Masters student who is working on a project to map the distribution of an invasive mud worm (Polydora websteri) that infects native shellfish such as the commercially grown Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas) and wild populations of Olympia oysters (Ostrea lurida).

Oyster transplant project in the Lynnhaven River, a tributary to the Chesapeake Bay where Megan worked prior to coming to OSU. Photo courtesy of Megan Considine.

Megan explains that these tiny worms don’t make the oyster meat inedible, as infected populations can still be harvested and sold for canning, but they do become unmarketable on the half shell. This is because the worms crawl between the inner shell surfaces, and the oyster then grows new shell material over it to wall off the invader. The worm then deposits muddy material or debris into the shell pocket and essentially creates a blister. Although these blisters are not known to negatively impact the oysters themselves, they are not exactly aesthetically pleasing to the consumer. This is what is really hurting the multi-million dollar industry and the main reason stakeholders from Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California are all working together to detect and prevent further spread of the worms. 

A Pacific oyster infected by the invasive mudworm, showing blisters that have been opened up to try and extract the worm. Photo courtesy of Megan Considine.

Dr. Steve Rumrill is the Shellfish Program Leader at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and as courtesy faculty of Hatfield Marine Science Center is Megan’s primary advisor. Working with ODFW, Megan visits shellfish farms located in estuaries along the Oregon coast and picks up oysters which are inspected for worms. If found, samples are then sent to a lab in Washington for genetic analysis to confirm infestation. Megan says that farmers may not even know their oysters are infected and she hopes to expand her work beyond just ecological sampling to outreach and mitigating an emergent problem.

“I want to create an education piece in Spanish and English, so that farmers can be aware of when their oysters are infected.”

Megan’s passion for education goes far beyond aquaculture. Getting back to her coral analogy, oysters are not just important to aquaculture here in the Pacific Northwest. Ecologically, they are incredibly valuable wherever they occur both when living, for example, filtering the water column, but also after they die. Their calcium carbonate shells provide the foundational habitat that supports an incredible diversity of estuarine life. 

For a long time in oyster restoration efforts, it’s been understood that substrate is a primary limiting factor in supporting this reef-building capacity of oysters. According to Megan, in the PNW, they were just completely overharvested during the Gold Rush era. In addition to her work on invasive mud worms in oyster farms, Megan is also a part of efforts to restore natural oyster populations in Oregon, specifically at Yaquina Head. And this is an area of research Megan has been passionate about for some time. 

Megan getting ready to snorkel assist with coral restoration in the Florida Keys working with Mote Marine Laboratory. Photo courtesy of Megan Considine.

Originally from Virginia Beach, Megan recalls her time as an elementary school student being tasked along with her classmates to monitor the growth of a bag of oysters donated by a local non-profit. Along with studying their entrusted specimens, she says that they would also engage in other activities about estuarine ecology surrounding oysters in the Chesapeake Bay. This hands-on experience would come full circle when after completing her undergraduate studies at the University of South Carolina, Megan had the opportunity to intern with the same organization, Oyster Reef Keepers, that sponsored the oyster education program in several schools, leading kids through many of the same activities that sparked her early fascination with estuary ecosystems and marine science.  

Although a more well-known issue on the East coast, Megan explains that oyster habitat degradation is a world-wide problem and she came to Oregon State to expand her knowledge of its effects in other places. She says that oyster restoration hasn’t had as much momentum here in the West because aquaculture has been the focus, but it’s gaining traction. Concern over threats like climate change to coastal ecosystems have supported this trend. Although oysters are  less sensitive to climate change impacts like ocean acidification than corals are known to be, it still may compromise their ability to cope with other direct threats, such as invasive species. 

At Yaquina Head, Megan is working with an artist from the East coast named Evelyn Tickle who makes concrete tiles to be used in oyster reef restoration that are designed to mimic natural oyster beds. These one square foot tiles differ from the cinder block structures that have been used to provide substrate for the oysters to grow on in the past by providing a more complex structure made of compounds like calcium carbonate. Overall, the tiles give oysters a better chance to establish amidst other stressors. 

Megan has been so inspired by Evelyn’s work that she has begun working with two other OSU students, Chad Sullivan and Nicolás Gómez-Andújar, to develop other biomimicry concrete structures for future restoration efforts that support the erosion and storm mitigation services that both oysters and corals provide to coastal systems. They are calling themselves the Urban Reef Lab

Megan on one of many coastal trips taken since Megan moved to Oregon; exploring the West coast is one of her favorite pastime’s. Photo courtesy of Megan Considine.

“The idea is that instead of using simple and smooth breakwater structures or sea walls, we can incorporate textures and shapes that are designed for specific organisms. So, working with nature rather than against. For instance, if the goal is oyster settlement we would use the appropriate texture such as crevices and pits. The designs can also be used as hard substrate for coral outplants or for oyster restoration efforts, like the Yaquina Bay project.”

To learn more about Megan’s research and outreach goals beyond her graduate work, tune in to KBVR 88.7 FM or stream online April 19, 2020 at 7 P.M. 

Working with Dungeness crab fishermen to get a ‘sense’ of low-oxygen conditions off the Oregon coast

Linus tidepooling at Yaquina Head, Oregon Coast.

Linus Stoltz is a graduate student in the Marine Resource Management Master’s Program through the College of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, co-advised by Dr. Kipp Shearman and Dr. Francis Chan. Only in his second term, Linus is already diving in to a project that means a lot to Oregon coastal communities.

Dungeness crab is the most profitable state-managed fishery in Oregon, generating $66.7 million dollars in commercial sales over the 2018-2019 season alone. However, an increasing threat to this valuable industry that has caused significant harvest reductions in recent years: hypoxia. Hypoxia refers to low-oxygen conditions in the ocean that have been recorded as occurring more frequently off the Oregon Coast and elsewhere in the Pacific Northwest, where Dungeness crab fishing is a major activity. In some parts of the ocean, such as the Gulf Coast, these conditions are triggered by pollution which causes overproduction of algae, followed by excess decomposition. However, here, it’s more complicated. These conditions are generated by offshore wind- driven movement of cold, nutrient-rich but oxygen-poor deep water across the continental shelf, toward the coast.

This process of ‘upwelling’ (see figure below) is a natural occurrence, but scientists speculate that climate change is making these events more frequent and their characteristics severe. As a Marine Biology major in his undergraduate studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, Linus admits that oceanography isn’t exactly in his “wheelhouse” but it doesn’t take an oceanographer to understand that atmospheric conditions are strongly tied to ocean circulation patterns. Referring to graphic representations of Northwest wind stress and dissolved oxygen concentrations, he says “they’re pretty well correlated.” Normally, the offshore winds that drive upwelling are counteracted by a shifting of wind patterns that ultimately allow them to mix sufficiently and re-oxygenate. But the reality is that this is happening less and less frequently.

The process of ‘upwelling’ off the West Coast. Source. www.noaa.gov

What does hypoxia mean for Dungeness crabs? Linus describes the events like waves of low-oxygen water moving slowly across the seafloor. As bottom-dwelling organisms that depend on dissolved oxygen to breathe, if conditions are severe enough or persist long enough, they’ll die. More and more instances of crab fishermen pulling up their gear full of dead crabs prompted them to reach out to scientists for help. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) biologists and researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) have been working together since 2002 to try and find answers. Check out this video by ODFW to see real-time footage of a hypoxic wave as it flows over a Dungeness crab pot in 2017.

While we are beginning to understand the bigger picture of the oceanographic conditions that result in hypoxia, Linus explains that we don’t have any models that predict this ‘wave’ on a finer scale. He describes the ocean as patchy, where conditions just a thousand yards away from where a fisherman may have set his or her pots may be completely different. The ultimate goal of his research is to be able to predict these conditions and inform management decisions such as seasonal and/or spatial closures.

The roughly two-foot long Sexton oxygen sensor seen above will be attached to an individual crab pot that will transmit data via Bluetooth to the Deck Data Hub which will then relay the information to a receiver on the OSU campus.

But even more important to fisherman now, the project will also provide ‘in situ’ information fisherman can use to make critical decisions while they’re out there. To achieve this, Linus will be equipping fishermen with sensors to be deployed by Dungeness crab fishermen through the season to collect data on dissolved oxygen. The data recorded by the sensors can be seen immediately by fishermen when they retrieve their pots and will also be automatically transferred via Bluetooth to a box on deck which will ultimately transmit to a receiver on the OSU campus. The hope is to capture the variability in oxygen conditions, while minimizing their impact on fishing operations.

Linus tagging red drum in Hancock Creek when he worked for North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF).

Before coming to OSU, Linus spent time as an observer for the North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries testing by-catch reduction technology in the shrimp trawling industry, an experience he recounts as “character-building to say the least.” In other words, Linus knows how important it is to streamline the process if he wants to get any cooperation from fishermen and collecting data can’t be in the way or slow them down. A stark contrast, however, between the interactions between fisherman and researchers on the East Coast to Oregon is that this relationship is more than just cooperative, it’s a collaboration. Fishermen here trust scientists, but at the same time the researchers recognize that fishermen are out there more and are the ones who see changes first-hand.

For Linus, this project represents one of just about any marine science topic he’s excited to be involved in. To learn more about Linus’s journey from SCUBA diving in a cold lake in Ohio as a ten-year old to working as an underwater technician monitoring artificial reefs off the coast of North Carolina, tune in to KBVR 88.7 FM or online February 23, 2020 at 7 P.M.

Cultures of collaboration in forest management

Meredith Jacobson is a Master’s student in the Forest, Ecosystems and Society Department of OSU’s College of Forestry who studies collaborative partnerships in forest management. She describes her thesis work here at Oregon State as a qualitative case study on the concept of “Anchor Forests”, an idea developed by the Intertribal Timber Council that would involve creating large regions of forest management and stewardship, collaborating across ownership boundaries. Within this brief statement, there’s a lot to unpack.

Early in her undergraduate experience in forestry at UC Berkeley, Meredith became interested in how to engage communities in managing their natural resources. After working a few seasons in the field, she wanted to find a way to combine her interest in social justice with her love of forests. So she came to OSU to study collaborative forest governance. As she gained exposure to this field under the guidance of her advisors Dr. Reem Hajjar and Dr. Emily Jane Davis, she soon learned that a lot of work needs to be done to make collaboration more effective, equitable, and just. She also found that most models of forest collaboration are not doing a good job engaging with Native communities, the original stewards of the land. 

Backpacking through the Plumas National Forest, one of the first places where Meredith first learned about wildfire-adapted landscapes.

Meredith then learned about the Intertribal Timber Council’s vision for Anchor Forests, which proposes that Tribes are uniquely positioned to be leaders and conveners of cross-boundary forest management. Core to the Anchor Forest concept is a need to generate long-term commitments on the part of many landowners to actively manage land, in order to sustain investments for infrastructure like sawmills while creating healthy and wildfire-resilient landscapes. Early in her time at OSU, Meredith had the opportunity to speak with leaders involved in developing the Anchor Forest concept, who expressed to her that while Anchor Forests have not been fully implemented on the ground, the vision holds a lot of potential. From these conversations, she developed a project intended to document why this idea emerged, what it could be used for in the future, and how we might learn from it.

The Intertribal Timber Council released an Executive Summary of the Anchor Forest Pilot Project in 2016, which studied a group of pilot communities in central and eastern Washington. Around this time, a couple journal articles were published and Evergreen Magazine released a video series about Anchor Forests. Meredith hopes that her work can generate more conversation at OSU and in the field of collaborative forest governance about the potential of this concept and vision.

Diving into this topic, Meredith has found it to be more complicated than meets the eye. There are logistical, institutional, and social barriers to making an idea like this work. Her data collection has included interviewing those involved in developing the Anchor Forest concept, analyzing published documents and reports, and looking at online media coverage of Tribal forest policies and laws that could enable the cross-boundary work needed to make Anchor Forests happen. Through her analysis, she wants to understand what is unique about this concept and what barriers need to be overcome to realize its potential. She’s also looking at what types of narratives or stories are used to portray Tribes as effective leaders and land stewards.

Meredith says that one of the most interesting things she’s learned so far is that among the ten people she’s talked to, there has not been one unified perspective on what makes the Anchor Forest idea unique and what hope it holds for the future. 

“I think that this reflects how this idea takes different shapes and meanings depending on the local context where it would be implemented. With a concept as broad as this, it’s important to remember that every community has its own distinct history, ecology, and economy. And every Tribe is unique in their culture, values, needs, and interests, but non-Native folks tend to overlook that. ”

The property line between federal and private forests in the northern Sierra Nevada highlights differences in post-fire management approaches, and the challenges of working across ownership boundaries.

Perhaps this is why the concept itself is so difficult to define. However, one common theme emerging from land managers across the West: that shifting leadership and power to Tribes could be a critical part of the solution to increasingly urgent challenges like wildfire affecting forests on a landscape scale.

Meredith presents her findings to the Intertribal Timber Council on Tuesday. To hear more about her journey to grad school and how she is navigating her own identity as a non-native person engaging in indigenous partner research, tune in on Sunday, December 1st at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live

Over sixty years digging and we’re still finding new ‘dirt’ on HJ Andrews

One kilometer. Or roughly ten football fields. That’s the extent of the area over which Karla Jarecke, a Ph.D. candidate in the College of Forestry’s Department of Forest, Ecosystems & Society can feasibly navigate her way through the trail-less HJ Andrews Experimental forest to collect the data she needs in a typical day of field work. Imagining a football field is perhaps not the best way to appreciate this feat, nor envision the complex topography that makes up this coniferous forest on the western flanks of the Cascade mountains, roughly 50 miles East of Eugene. But these characteristics are precisely what have made this forest valuable to scientists since 1948 and continue to make it the ideal place for Karla’s research.

Experimental watersheds like the HJ Andrews forest were established initially to understand how clear-cutting influenced forest drainage and other ecosystem processes such as regrowth of plants and change in nutrients in soils and streams. This was during the time when timber-take was increasing and we still had little understanding of its ecosystem effects. Karla’s work is also forward-thinking, but less on the lines of what will happen to drainage when trees are removed and more focused on understanding the availability of water for trees to use now and in the future. She wants to know what influence topography has on plant water availability in mountainous landscapes.

Meter deep soil pits at Karla’s field site.

Back to bushwhacking. The answer to Karla’s research question lies beneath the uneven forest floor. Specifically, in the soil. Soil is the stuff made up of weathered rock, decomposing organic material and lots of life but it is also the medium through which much of the water within a forest drainage moves. Across her study area, Karla has 54 sites where she collects data from sensors that measure soil moisture at two different depths. These steel rods send electrical currents into the ground, which depending on how quickly they travel can tell her how much water is present in the soil. She also keeps track of sensors that measure atmospheric conditions, like temperature and air humidity. This information builds on the incredible sixty-year data set that has been collected on soil moisture within HJ Andrews, but with a new perspective.

Digging soil pits on steep slopes occasionally required stacking logs at the base of a tarp to prevent the soil from sliding down the hill.
Photo credit: Lina DiGregorio

Karla explains that there have been long-standing assumptions surrounding elevation gradients and their control on water availability in a forest system. This understanding has led to modeling tools currently used to extrapolate soil moisture across a landscape. But so far, her data show huge variability on surprisingly small scales that cannot be explained by gradient alone. This indicates that there are other controls on the spatial availability of soil moisture in such mountainous terrain.

“We’re finding that model doesn’t work really well in places where soil properties are complicated and topography is variable. And that’s just the first part of my research.”

The next phase of Karla’s work seeks to evaluate tree stress in the forest and determine if there are any connections between this and the variability she is finding in soil moisture across spatial scales. True to the complex nature of the landscape, this work is complicated! But to Karla, it’s important. Growing up in the mid-west, Karla came to know water as “green” and when she moved West, first to fulfill an internship in Colorado and then to pursue her graduate work here in the Pacific Northwest, she was (and still is) amazed by the abundance of clean, clear rivers and streams. And it’s something she doesn’t ever want to take for granted.

Karla and her sister Stephani snowshoeing on Tumalo Mountain in the Cascade Range of central Oregon.

To find out more about Karla’s research and her journey from farming in Italy to studying soil, tune in on Sunday, October 27th at 7 PM on KBVR 88.7 FM, live stream the show at http://www.orangemedianetwork.com/kbvr_fm/, or download our podcast on iTunes.

Giving therapy-resistant cancer cells a taste of their own medicine

The use of chemotherapy to fight various forms of cancer in the human body has been a successful method for decades, but what happens when it fails? This question strikes a personal note for Martin Pearce, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology at Oregon state University. Prior to his graduate work, both of his grandmothers were diagnosed with breast cancer. One successfully went through treatment and although the other initially responded well to chemotherapy, years later the cancer cells reappeared and there was no other treatment available.

Martin in the lab, running one of many Western Blots.

The academic system in the United Kingdom, from where Martin hails, encourages undergraduate students to take what is termed a “placement year” between their second and third years to gain practical experience. At the time of his grandmother’s returning prognosis, Martin was in the second year of his studies at University of the West of England Bristol which had a connection with East Carolina University in the States. Although deviating somewhat from his initial advanced level courses in business, the opportunity to work full time in a biomedical sciences lab at a university renowned for its medical research provided just the right place for Martin to spend the following year.

Martin’s time in North Carolina was not only practical but a reminder of his experience with biology in secondary school. His teacher was a doctor and she encouraged him to pursue a career in a biomedical field. While biology wasn’t his easiest subject, Martin was inspired by his mentor and enjoyed the challenge. Today, he is fully committed to this challenge as a key member in Dr. Siva Kolluri’s Cancer Biology lab group at Oregon State University researching new strategies to target the cancer cells that continue to grow after treatment with chemotherapeutic agents.

Current members of Dr. Siva Kolluri’s Cancer Biology Laboratory group.

Their work involves screening tens of thousands of compounds against such resistant cancer cells that express a particular group of proteins called the Bcl-2 family of proteins. The lab has discovered a novel compound that binds specifically to the Bcl-2 family of proteins that are consistently expressed in therapy-resistant cancer cells and cause them to change shape. One of the fundamental principles of cell and molecular biology is the relationship between structure and function. Change the structure of a molecule and its function within a cell can completely transform. In the case of the Bcl-2 family of proteins, this literally means life or death for the cell.

Protected within the typical expression of a Bcl-2 protein is a region Martin describes as a “death domain”; if this domain is exposed, it induces cell death. Cell death or ‘apoptosis’ is a naturally occurring process in biology. Without apoptosis in the early stages of human development, we would all have webbed fingers! Martin and his team have discovered a compound capable of binding to a Bcl-2 protein, causing it to unfold and expose its death domain. Thus, the protein transforms from one that protects the resistant cancer cell into one that kills it.  

Example of Breast cancer cells that are resistant to chemotherapeutic agent Taxol, that are responsive to compound Bcl-2 Functional Converter (BFC). Blue dots are cancer cell colonies.

Demonstrating the effectiveness of this pathway at the cellular level is remarkable, but Martin explains even the years it has taken to reach this stage are just the beginning of a very long process until it can be used to treat people with cancer. Beyond discovery, through the work of his Ph.D. Martin has realized other critical steps in developing effective cancer treatments that occur outside of the lab. For example, once a compound has been identified that successfully binds to a target protein, medical researchers must work with a patent attorney to protect their work and generate funding. Without patent protection, new drugs can’t be developed.

The dedication to ‘translational research’ or science that is specifically designed to be applied in improving health outcomes is what drew Martin to work with Dr. Kolluri in the first place and continues to inspire his plans for the future. Drawing back to his early interest in business, after finishing his Ph.D., Martin intends to explore a career as a patent attorney.

“This way I can be involved in the most exciting part of the process for me and be a part of people being at the edge of achieving what I was initially inspired in this career to achieve.“

Lifelong Bristol City F.C. supporters, Martin and his dad at Ashton Gate Stadium.

To hear more about Martin’s graduate work and insights into translational research, tune in on Sunday, October 13th at 7 PM on KBVR 88.7 FM, live stream the show at http://www.orangemedianetwork.com/kbvr_fm/, or download our podcast on iTunes!