Category Archives: College of Agricultural Sciences

Are Microplastics the New Fish Food?

Geologists have considered an entirely new geologic era as a result of the impact humans are having on the planet. Some plastic material in our oceans near Hawaii along are hot magma vents and is being cemented together with sand, shells, fishing nets and forming never before existing material — Plastiglomerates. This new rock is a geologic marker providing evidence of our impact that will last centuries. Although rocks seem inert, that same plastic material floating around our oceans is constantly being eaten, purposefully and accidentally, by ocean creatures from as small as plankton to as large as whales and we’re just beginning to understand the ubiquity of microplastics in our oceans and food webs that humans depend on.  

Our guest this evening is Katherine Lasdin, a Masters student in the Fisheries and Wildlife Department, and she has to go through extraordinary steps in her lab to measure the quantity and accumulation of plastics in fish. Her work focuses on the area off the coast of Oregon, where she is collecting black rockfish near Oregon Marine Reserves and far away from those protected areas. These Marine Reserves are “living laboratory” zones that do not allow any fishing or development so that long-term monitoring and research can occur to better understand natural ecosystems. Due to the protected nature of these zones, fish may be able to live longer lives compared to fish who are not accessing this reserve. The paradox is whether fish leading longer lives could also allow them to bioaccumulate more plastics in their system compared to fish outside these reserves. But why would fish be eating plastics in the first place? 

These are the locations of Oregon’s Marine Reserves. The sampling for juveniles and adult black rockfish is occurring at Cape Foulweather which is between the Cascade head and Otter Rock Reserves. PC:
Black rockfish are a common fish off the Oregon coast and due to their abundance it’s a great study species for this research.

Plastic bottles, straws, and fishing equipment all eventually degrade into smaller pieces. Either through photodegradation from the sun rays, by wave action physically ripping holes in bottles, or abrasion with rocks as they churn on our beaches. The bottle that was once your laundry detergent  is now a million tiny fragments, some you can see but many you cannot. And they’re not just in our oceans either. As the plastics degrade into even tinier pieces, they can become small enough that, just like dust off a farm field, these microplastics can become airborne where we breathe them in! Microplastics are as large as 5mm (about the height of a pencil eraser) and they are hoping to find them as small as 45 micrometers (about the width of a human hair). To a juvenile fish their first few meals is critical to their survival and growth, but with such a variety of sizes and colors of plastics floating in the water column it’s often mistaken for food and ingested. In addition to the plastic pieces we can see with our eyes there is a background level of plastics even in the air we breathe that we can’t see, but they could show up in our analytical observations so Katherine has a unique system to keep everything clean. 

In order to quantify the amount of plastics in fish, you have to digest some of the fish guts. PC: Katherine Lasdin

Katherine is co-advised by Dr. Susanne Brander who’s lab studies microplastics in marine ecosystems. In order to keep plastics out of their samples, they need to carefully monitor the air flow in the lab. A HEPA filtration laminar flow hood blows purified air towards samples they’re working with in the lab and pushes that clean air out into the rest of the lab. There is a multi-staged glassware washing procedure requiring multiple ethanol rinses, soap wash, deionized water rinses, a chemical solvents rinse, another ethanol, and a final combustion of the glass in a furnace at 350°C for 12-hours to get rid of any last bit of contamination. And everyday that someone in Dr. Brander’s lab works in the building they know exactly what they’re wearing; not to look cool, but to minimize any polyester clothing and maximize cotton clothing so there is even less daily contamination of plastic fibers. These steps are taken because plastics are everywhere, and Katherine is determined to find out just big the problem may be for Oregon’s fish.  

Katherine Lasdin working in the laminar flow hood that blows purified air towards the samples in Dr. Brander’s lab. PC: Cheyenne Pozar

Be sure to listen to the interview Sunday 7PM, either on the radio 88.7KBVR FM or live-stream, to learn how Katherine is conducting her research off the coast of Oregon to better understand our ocean ecosystems in the age of humans.

Listen to the podcast episode!

On this episode at the 16:00 mark we described how every time you wash clothing you will loose some microfibers; and how a different student was looking at this material under microscopes. That person is Sam Athey, a PhD student at the University of Toronto who also studies microplastics.

Environmental planning in an age of human-animal interactions

Many people enjoy their time visiting wildlands whether it means hiking, birding, or searching for exotic mushrooms, but as more people visit the outdoors there are more and more layers of expected uses for a single patch of forest. Since a 1960 Congressional act, National Forests have been designated multi-use which includes managing the land for “outdoor recreation, range, timber, watershed, and wildlife and fish purposes.” Hikers and bird-enthusiasts may have overlapping expectations of calm and serenity when stepping foot on the trailhead, but that’s a far cry from what a mountain biker wants out of a trail system where speed and steepness are prioritized. Additionally, there are demands for timber production vital to rural community survival and finding recreational areas for hunting and fishing. With all these expected uses, there is no doubt there will be conflicts. The vexing questions that simmer for land managers is understanding where on the landscape federal dollars can be utilized for maximum public good.

The way we’ve approached that question has changed over time. In the past, these management decisions were answered with a pure ecological understanding of the area such as: which soils can support mushrooms growth, or what trees species can support a bird species of interest. Making decisions completely within the ecological framework could miss the fact that the local community prioritizes river access because of its strength as a tourism hub for whitewater rafting, for example. Instead of spending money on a bird exploration trail they may prioritize the repair of a boat ramp or a wildfire prevention treatment around a heavily used section of river that is susceptible to summer fires. The latter two options are likely to have much stronger public support, gain local advocates in the process and, in the long run, make it possible to expand the range of successful recreational programs. Those ideas are examples of an idea where the ecology of the land and the social factors are taken into account to better focus management decisions in a process called Human Ecology Mapping.

Jackie Delie and brother, Anthony Delie, exploring the Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia Canada

If we can take into account the ecological factors of the area that bracket what is physically possible on the land and better understand the priorities of the local community, then land managers can make more informed decisions that are less likely to result in user conflicts and are more likely to create long-term positive impacts on the relationships humans have with the land. Our guest is Jackie Delie a Masters student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife who is using the Human Ecology Mapping technique in a more visceral relationship: human and black bear interactions in Oregon. Jackie is advised by Dr. Kelly Biedenweg, a social scientist, who previously had another student exploring social spatial data for sustainable management in the Hood Canal between Oregon and Washington. This study suggested that this is a method that can yield positive results across a variety of user groups.

Black bear sighting on the river bank in the Great Bear Rainforest, British Columbia Canada

Furry and curious or big and scary? Your immediate thoughts about black bears is likely related to your previous experiences with them. If you’ve seen bears napping in the sun from behind a glass enclosure at a zoo, you probably think they’re gentle giants. If you’re chasing bears out of your backyard while they scatter trash across your front lawn every week, you probably have different feelings. You may expect the more you are exposed to bears the more you know about them; however, what kind of exposure is critical to your feeling about bears. If you’re a hunter or hiker, you likely have very positive experiences with bears compared to a homeowner nestled in the wildland urban interface but does not recreate in the forest. Jackie is leveraging the spatial GPS data of black bears killed over the past decade, as reported from the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and examining how the cluster of those points relate to how people use the landscape and their experiences and values.

Jackie Delie checking on camera trap cameras in black bear habitat on the urban-wildlife fringe in King County, Washington

This is the first study of its kind that looks at the human dimensions of human and black bear interactions in Oregon, as Oregon is one of the few places that mandate GPS points be recorded for black bear kills. Jackie collected in-person interviews at 18 different trailheads throughout Oregon asking participants a variety of questions. One of them is to physically draw where in Oregon they use the landscape and for what use –  hiking, hunting, rafting, or another activity.  Using both spatial and social datasets she may begin to elucidate not only where there are overlapping user areas, but how those areas may influence the human perceptions of black bears in the environment. The larger goal of Jackie’s project is to help inform the management plan through the Oregon Department Fish and Wildlife so they can make better decisions on where to prioritize resources on the landscape to better understand why human opinions differ about black bears.

Jackie Delie conducting research in the Panama rainforest on the behavior of mantled howler monkeys (Alouatta palliata) or you can say solo research time in the Panama rainforest

Merging two (somewhat) disparate fields of science is rare for a graduate degree, but knowing Jackie’s road to graduate school makes it seem rather natural. She conducted her undergraduate degree in Switzerland doing countless endeavors from Australia to Kenya learning about new foods, cultures, and sciences. After many travels and internships, she knew she wanted to purse graduate school. It was almost one year from the first time Jackie contacted her advisor until she became a student here at Oregon State.

Be sure to listen to the interview Sunday 7PM, either on the radio 88.7KBVR FM or live-stream, to learn how a holistic approach to land management can ensure a more successful project outcome, and how Jackie traveled the world and ended up back in the Pacific Northwest, an area she calls home.

Dr. Biedenweg Research Website

Jackie Delie’s Website

 

Zebrafish sentinels: studying the effects of cadmium on biology and behavior

Cadmium exposure is on the rise

There’s a good chance you might have touched cadmium today. A heavy metal semi-conductor used in industrial manufacturing, cadmium is found in batteries and in some types of solar panels. Fertilizers and soil also contain cadmium because it is present in small levels in the Earth’s crust. The amount of cadmium in the environment is increasing because of improper disposal of cell phone batteries, contaminating groundwater and soil. This is a problem that impacts people all over the world, particularly in developing countries.

Plants take up cadmium from the soil, which is how exposure through food can occur. Leafy greens like spinach and lettuce can contain high levels of cadmium. From the soil, cadmium can leach into groundwater, contaminating the water supply. Cadmium is also found in a variety of other foods, including chocolate, grains and shellfish, as well as drinking water.

Cadmium has a long half-life, reaching decades, which means that any cadmium you are exposed to will persist in your body for a long time. Once in the body, cadmium ends up in the eyes or can displace minerals with similar chemical properties, such as zinc, copper, iron, and calcium. Displacement can cause grave effects related to the metabolism of those minerals. Cadmium accumulation in the eyes is linked to age-related macular degeneration, and for people in the military and children, elevated cadmium is linked to psychosocial and neurological disorders.

Read more about cadmium in the food supply:



Using zebrafish to study the effects of cadmium

Delia Shelton, a National Science Foundation post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, uses zebrafish to investigate how cadmium exposure in an individual affects the behavior of the group. Exposing a few individuals to cadmium changes how the group interacts and modifies their response to novel stimuli and environmental landmarks, such as plants. For example, poor vision in a leader might lead a group closer to predators, resulting in the group being more vulnerable to predation.

Zebrafish

As part of her post-doctoral research, Delia is asking questions about animal behavior in groups: how does a zebrafish become a leader, how do sick zebrafish influence group behavior, and what are the traits of individuals occupying different social roles? These specific questions are born from larger inquiries about what factors lead to individual animals wielding inordinately large influence on a group’s social dynamic. Can we engineer groups that are resilient to anthropogenic influences on the environment and climate change?

Zebrafish

Zebrafish are commonly used in biomedical research because they share greater than 75% similarity with the human genome. Because zebrafish are closely related to humans, we can learn about human biology by studying biological processes in zebrafish. Zebrafish act as a monitoring system for studying the effects of compounds and pollution on development. It is possible to manipulate their vision, olfactory system, level of gene expression, size, and aggression level to study the effects of pollutants, drugs, or diseases. As an added benefit, zebrafish are small and adapt easily to lab conditions. Interestingly, zebrafish are transparent, so they are great for imaging. Zebrafish have the phenomenal ability to regenerate their fins, heart and brain. What has Delia found? Zebrafish exposed to cadmium are bolder and tend to be attracted more to novel stimuli, and they have heightened aggression.

Read more about zebrafish:

ZFIN- Zebrafish Information Network – https://zfin.org/
Zebrafish International Research Center in Eugene Or – http://zebrafish.org/home/guide.php



What led Delia to study cadmium toxicity in zebrafish?

As a child, Delia was fascinated by animals and wanted to understand why they do the things they do. As an undergrad, she enjoyed research and pursued internships at Merck pharmaceutical, a zoo consortium, and Indiana University where she worked with Siamese fighting fish. She became intrigued by social behavior, social roles, and leadership. Delia studied the effects of cadmium in grad school at Indiana University, and decided to delve into this area of research further.

Delia began her post-doctoral work after she finished her PhD in 2016. She was awarded an NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship to complete a tri-institute collaboration: Oregon State University, Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries in Berlin, Germany, and University of Windsor in Windsor, Ontario. She selected the advisors she wanted to work with by visiting labs and interviewing past students. She wanted to find advisors she would work well with and who would help her to accomplish her goals. Delia also outlined specific goals heading into her post-doc about what she wanted to accomplish: publish papers, identify collaborators, expand her funding portfolio, learn about research institutes, and figure out if she wanted to stay in academia.

Research commercialization and future endeavors

During her time at OSU, Delia developed a novel assay to screen multiple aspects of vision, and saw an opportunity to explore commercialization of the assay. She was awarded a grant through the NSF Innovation Corps and has worked closely with OSU Accelerator to pursue commercialization of her assay. Delia is now wrapping up her post-doc, and in the fall, she will begin a tenure track faculty position at University of Tennessee in the Department of Psychology, where she will be directing her lab, Environmental Psychology Innovation Center (E.P.I.C) and teaching! She is actively recruiting graduate students, postdocs, and other ethnusiatic individuals to join her at EPIC.

Please join us tonight as we speak with Delia about her research and navigation of the transition from PhD student to post-doc and onwards to faculty. We will be talking to her about her experience applying for the NSF Postdoctoral Fellowship, how she selected the labs she wanted to join as a post-doc, and her experience working and traveling in India to collect zebrafish samples.

Tune in to KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream the show live on Sunday, April 7th at 7 PM. You can also listen to the episode on our podcast.

Feather collections and stressed-out owls

Ashlee Mikkelsen holding a juvenile northern spotted owl. Photo courtesy Ashlee Mikkelsen.

For six months out of every year, Ashlee Mikkelsen spends her days hiking for miles off-trail in the Ponderosa pine-filled forests of central Washington, hooting like an owl, and carefully listening for responses. These days, responses can be few and far between. You see, Ashlee isn’t just a wildlife enthusiast; she is a research assistant in a long-term US Forest Service monitoring program focused on the northern spotted owl.

Since being listed as threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service in 1990, populations of northern spotted owls have continued to decline. In some areas, the number of spotted owls has decreased by more than half in only 20 years (see (Dugger et al. (2016)). Northern spotted owls are inhabitants of old-growth forests. Although northern spotted owls historically could be found in almost every forest from northern California to British Columbia, as forests have shrunk in size through timber harvesting and through changing land use, the amount of suitable habitat has drastically decreased. A second major contributor to the decline of the northern spotted owl is arrival during the last century of the barred owl, which are native to northeastern North America. Barred owls competed with spotted owls for territory and resources, and have been observed fighting with spotted owls.  Ashlee’s master’s research at Oregon State aims to quantify the stress experienced by spotted owls.

Northern spotted owl. Photo courtesy Ashlee Mikkelsen.

When birds experience stress, their bodies respond by releasing larger-than-usual quantities of the hormone corticosterone. Similar to cortisol in humans, corticosterone is always present, but having levels that are very high or that are very low is associated with poor health outcomes. It used to be that in order to measure the physical stress response of a bird, researchers had to take a blood sample. The problem with this is that the process of taking a blood sample itself is a source of stress for the bird. Recently, however, a new technique was introduced based on the fact that corticosterone is also present in feathers. Being able to use feathers is a distinct advantage: birds are constantly dropping feathers, so collecting feathers is fairly non-invasive, and importantly, similar to the benefits of measuring cortisol in hair, feather corticosterone measurements show the average level of the hormone over a long period, rather than just the instant that the feather is collected.

Ashlee banding a juvenile northern spotted owl. Photo courtesy Ashlee Mikkelsen

Ashlee banding a juvenile northern spotted owl. Photo courtesy Ashlee Mikkelsen

Working with professor Katie Dugger (who, incidentally, was Ashlee’s supervisor in the owl-monitoring field crew for the two years prior to beginning graduate school), Ashlee is analyzing a collection of feathers that spans over a 30-year time period. Measuring corticosterone levels in feathers is a high-tech process involving organic chemistry and radioactive isotopes. Although there are many complications that need to be accounted for, tracking the levels of corticosterone in these feathers gives Ashlee insight into the impact of stressors such as environmental degradation and competition with barred owls. Because the data spans so many years, she is able to examine the average stress in spotted owls over periods of change in the populations of barred owls. Ashlee’s data shows a strong response in corticosterone in spotted owls when the number of barred owls in the neighborhood goes up. This supports the view that spotted owls’ woes are not just due to habitat loss, but also due to competition with barred owls.

To hear more about Ashlee’s path to OSU, experiences in research, and of course about northern spotted owls, tune in Sunday, February 16th 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!

 

Saving the blue whales of the South Taranaki Bight

A blue whale engulfs a patch of krill. Drone piloted by Todd Chandler.

Until a worldwide ban took effect in 1986, whaling and the production whale products, were leading to a decline in whale populations. Despite a greater global awareness about the importance of protecting our oceans, conflicts still exist between conservation efforts and industry.

This week’s guest, Dawn Barlow, studies the anthropogenic effects on blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus) – the largest known animal to have ever existed! Dawn is a first year PhD student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife’s Geospatial Ecology of Marine Megafauna (GEMM) Labwith Dr. Leigh Torres – the same lab where she completed her Master’s degree in 2018.

A blue whale mother and calf surface near Cape Farewell, New Zealand. Photo by Dawn Barlow.

Discovery of new whale population… and problem

Through her Master’s work, Dawn and her colleagues were able to document a genetically distinct population of about 700 blue whalesin the South Taranaki Bight (STB) – a region located between the north and south islands of New Zealand. The STB is not only an important region for the blue whales; however, it is also heavily used by industry, with active oil and gas extraction, seismic surveying, shipping traffic, and proposed seafloor mining. The need for a marine sanctuary in this area is eminent for the longevity of this whale population, but a compromise must be reached with the government and stakeholders. Furthermore, defining a sanctuary area in a dynamic system is not as simple as drawing a line in the sand.

Data collection Down Under

A pair of blue whales surface in New Zealand’s South Taranaki Bight region. Photo by Leigh Torres.

For her PhD research, Dawn will be continuing work with this same population of whales to get a better understanding of the ecological factors that influence where the blue whales are distributed. So far, three data collection trips have been conducted to gather some of this information. These ship-based trips have collected huge amounts of data using a myriad of equipment and techniques.

Echosounder data is collected using a transducer, which hangs off the boat and sends two pings per second producing measurements from the bounce back that can be used to map out krill aggregations – the blue whale’s primary food source. Conductivity, Temperature, Depth (CTD) casts are used to collect temperature and salinity pressure measurements to determine depth. Wind measurements are also recorded, as this generates upwelling. Photography and videography from the ship deck and via drones are used for identification of individuals whales with their skin providing the equivalent uniqueness as a human fingerprint. Satellite imaging is also used to record sea temperatures and chlorophyll levels. Lastly – and my personal favorite – darts shot from a smaller inflatable boat at close-range are used to collect skin and blubber samples for downstream genetic, stable isotope, and hormone analysis. Opportunistic sampling of fecal matter (i.e. if a whale poops) can also be used for genetic and hormone analysis.

Approaching a blue whale for photo-identification and biopsy sampling. Photo by Kristin Hodge.

Dawn participated in the 2017 field season and also went in July 2018 to disseminate findings to stakeholders. Now she is tasked with sifting through the data to correlate the oceanography with acoustic data, satellite imagery and presence of krill. Preliminary results suggest that the blue whales seem to appear where krill aggregate. Through habitat modeling on an ecosystem scale, Dawn hopes to be able to predict on a seasonal scale where the krill – and therefore, blue whales – will be, allowing for informed, science-based conservation and management decisions to be made.

Finding a passion for conservation biology

Dawn Barlow on the flying bridge of the research vessel during fieldwork in New Zealand. Photo by Kristin Hodge.

Growing up in Northern California near the ocean has always inspired Dawn to pursue a career in marine science. Dawn received dual bachelor’s degrees in Organismal Biology and Environmental Policy at Pitzer College in Claremont, California, where she recognized the need to build a bridge between biology and its translation to conservation policy. Knowing she wanted to get hands-on experience in marine mammal research, Dawn sought out and pursued opportunities through the MARMAM listserv, which landed her two undergraduate internships: one studying bottlenose dolphins in Australia and another in Alaska with humpback whales. These internships allowed Dawn to realize her desire to continue research through a graduate program at Oregon State University, where she has already completed her Master’s degree in Wildlife Science. After completing her PhD, Dawn plans to continue conducting conservation research.

Join us on Sunday, February 10 at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to learn more about Dawn’s adventures Down Under, journey to graduate school, and answer to the age-old question: what does whale poop look like?

Kayaks and Computers: the Gray Whale Research Essentials

Throughout the year, looking out from the Oregon coast, you can often spot gray whales with the naked eye. Behind the magic and mystery of these massive creatures are teams of researchers tracking their migration and studying their diet.

Lisa Hildebrand is a 1st year Master’s student in Wildlife Science working with Dr. Leigh Torres within the College of Agriculture. Lisa studies geospatial ecology of marine megafauna, meaning that her research focuses on the feeding and movement through time and space of sea creatures larger than most fish, including large sea birds, seals, dolphins, and of course, the gray whales. To study such large animals in the ocean, Lisa manages a team that combines diverse technologies coupled with fine scale foraging ecology.

Gray whales feed on very small zooplankton suspended in shallow water. The whales don’t have teeth but instead have rows of baleen which look like a thick brush and act as a filter for water and sediment while letting in large quantities of zooplankton. In July and August, Lisa and her team of 4-5 people go out to Port Orford, Oregon. The team splits into two groups: a cliff team and a kayak team. From a cliff above their 1km2 sampling site, theodolites and computational programs are used to track whales by height and GPS location. Once a whale is spotted, team members kayak to this location and take water samples for analysis of zooplankton density, caloric content, species, and microplastic quantity. Lisa has taken over this ongoing project from a previous Master’s student, Florence Sullivan, and has data on the same research site and whales going back to 2015.

This research project provides opportunities for both undergraduates and high school level students to obtain first-hand field research experience. The students involved are able to take what they’ve heard in a classroom and apply it outdoors. In particular, Lisa is passionate about getting the students in the local Oregon coastal community involved in research on the whales that bring many tourists to their area.

To study the large gray whales, Lisa spends most of her time studying the small zooplankton that they eat. Zooplankton hide under kelp and it turns out, can be separated by populations that are pregnant, or varied in age or species. Gray whales may show preference for some feeding sites and/or types of zooplankton. Why do we care what a gray whale’s dietary preferences are? Plastic use and plastic pollution are rampant. Much of our plastic ends up in the oceans and photodegrade into microplastics small enough to be consumed by zooplankton. Since gray whales are the top predator for zooplankton and eat large qualities, these microplastics accumulate. Microplastic presence may differ between regions and species of zooplankton, which may relate back to whale preferences and migratory patterns. On the Oregon coastline, microplastic profiles of zooplankton have not yet been studied. As humans are also consuming large quantities of seafood, it is important to understand how microplastics are accumulating in these areas.

Lisa is from Germany and grew up in Vietnam and Singapore, but she was first inspired to pursue marine animal research as a career after a family trip to Svalbard, Norway during high school. Before obtaining her undergraduate degree in Marine Zoology from Newcastle University in England, Lisa took two years off from schooling and completed two internships: one with bottlenose dolphin sanctuary research institute in Italy and Spain, and one at a seal research facility in Germany. Now that she’s settled in Oregon for now, Lisa is enjoying the nature and in her free time loves hiking and skiing.

To learn more you can check out GEMM Lab website , the GEMM Lab blog and Lisa’s Twitter, @lisahildy95

To hear more about Lisa’s research, tune in Sunday, January 20th 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!

Core Strategies for Conservation of Greater Sage-Grouse

Greater sage-grouse (GRSG) is a North American bird species that nests exclusively in sagebrush habitat. In the last century, natural populations of this species have significantly declined largely due to human influenced habitat loss and fragmentation. This has prompted multiple petitions to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to list GRSG under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), which would require mandatory restrictions on critical sagebrush habitat. This means that land managers of sagebrush areas would face land use restrictions for natural resource extraction and development, the bulk of the economy in Wyoming.

Wyoming Basin study site with associated GRSG Core Areas in blue. These Core Areas were designated as part of the GRSG Core Area Protection Act, Wyoming’s GRSG conservation policy aimed at protecting at least 67% of male GRSG attending leks. This policy is focused on directing development outside of these areas by setting strict conservation measures inside the Core Areas. Overall, the policy has remained effective in protecting at least 2/3 of GRSG habitat and has been identified as having the highest conservation value to maintaining sustainable GRSG populations.

 

Scent station and associated trail camera set-up in Natrona County, WY. Scent stations were randomly placed throughout the study site along roads and stratified between Core and Non-Core Areas. Mammalian predators are known to use roads for easy travel. These scent stations will help gather occupancy data of mammalian predators (Photo Credit: Eliana Moustakas).

Wyoming is a stronghold for GRSG, with the most birds, the most leks (male mating display grounds), and the largest contiguous sagebrush habitat in North America. Since GRSG declines have led to its possible endangered listing, Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal launched an effort in 2007 to develop stronger policies for GRSG that would protect the species and its habitat while also sustaining the state’s economy. A public forum followed, including representatives from state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and industries, and in 2008 a conservation policy called the Greater Sage-Grouse Core Area Protection Strategy was developed to maintain and restore suitable habitat and active breeding GRSG pairs. The plan aims to protect at least 67% of male GRSG attending leks, and is focused on directing development outside of Core Areas by setting strict conservation measures inside Core Areas. By protecting sagebrush habitat and allowing development and mining in Non-Core Areas, Wyoming can continue to expand its natural resource economy and play a critical role in GRSG conservation.

In 2010, the USFWS concluded that GRSG were warranted protection but left them off the ESA list because threats were moderate and did not occur equally across their range. The status of GRSG was reevaluated in 2015 and the USFWS determined that GRSG did not warrant protection, claiming that the Core Area Strategy was sound framework for a policy by which to conserve GRSG in WY. However, recent monitoring of GRSG has shown that populations are still in decline in some Core Areas and in populations across their range. Our guest this week, Claire Revekant, a second year Master’s student in the Department of Animal and Rangeland Science, is trying to understand if avian and mammalian predator abundance differs between Core and Non-Core Areas.

Golden eagle using a utility pole to perch. Raptors and corvids are known to use  structures to perch and nest.

 

Working under Dr. Jonathan Dinkins, Claire estimates associations between human influence areas and habitat variables on the abundance of predatory birds and occupancy of mammalian predators. For example, raptors and corvids have been documented to perch and nest on fences and other human structures, and roads have been found to be used as travel paths for mammalian predators. Claire’s hypothesis is that predatory animals will be higher in Non-Core Areas where human-influenced environments serves as areas of food subsidies. Identifying areas of predator abundance and relating those areas to human features and habitat variables may help policy makers prioritize plans to mitigate human influence and protect sagebrush habitat.

Badger captured by trail camera at scent station in Lincoln County.

While her research is focused on predators of GRSG, Claire’s work for GRSG conservation contributes to the conservation of other sagebrush-obligate species (species that relay on sagebrush for all or some parts of their life cycle). By protecting the ecosystem for one “umbrella” species, other species may also benefit. Throughout her career as a wildlife biologist, Claire has been involved with numerous projects where she has handled and monitored several species. From learning to band raptors as a child to monitoring seabird productivity as an intern at the Monomoy National Wildlife Refuge, Claire has developed a passion for research. She told us that she can’t remember a time when she had a different dream job. Tune in tonight Sunday November, 11 at 7 to hear more about Claire’s research and her journey to graduate school on 88.7 FM KBVR Corvallis, or stream the show live.

Stream ecosystems and a changing climate

Examining the effect of climate change on stream ecosystems

Oak Creek near McDonald Dunn research lab. The salamander and trout in the experiments were collected along this stretch of creek.

As a first year Master’s student in the lab of Ivan Arismendi, Francisco Pickens studies how the changing, warming climate impacts animals inhabiting stream ecosystems. A major component of stream ecosystem health is rainfall. In examining and predicting the effects of climate change on rainfall, it is important to consider not only the amount of rainfall, but also the timing of rainfall. Although a stream may receive a consistent amount of rain, the duration of the rainy season is projected to shrink, leading to higher flows earlier in the year and a shift in the timing of the lowest water depth. Currently, low flow and peak summer temperature are separated by time. With the shortening and early arrival of the rainy season, it is more likely that low flow and peak summer temperature will coincide.

A curious trout in one of the experimental tanks.

Francisco is trying to determine how the convergence of these two events will impact the animals inhabiting streams. This is an important question because the animals found in streams are ectothermic, meaning that they rely on their surrounding environment to regulate their body temperature. Synchronization of the peak summer temperature with the lowest level of water flow could raise the temperature of the water, profoundly impacting the physiology of the animals living in these streams.

 

 

How to study animals in stream ecosystems?

Salamander in its terrestrial stage.

Using a simulated stream environment in a controlled lab setting, Francisco studies how temperature and low water depth impact the physiology and behavior of two abundant stream species – cutthroat trout and the pacific giant salamander. Francisco controls the water temperature and depth, with depth serving as a proxy for stream water level.

Blood glucose level serves as the experimental readout for assessing physiological stress because elevated blood glucose is an indicator of stress. Francisco also studies the animals’ behavior in response to changing conditions. Increased speed, distance traveled, and aggressiveness are all indicators of stress. Francisco analyzes their behavior by tracking their movement through video. Manual frame-by-frame video analysis is time consuming for a single researcher, but lends itself well to automation by computer. Francisco is in the process of implementing a computer vision-based tool to track the animals’ movement automatically.

The crew that assisted in helping collect the animals: From left to right: Chris Flora (undergraduate), Lauren Zatkos (Master’s student), Ivan Arismendi (PI).

Why OSU?

Originally from a small town in Washington state, Francisco grew up in a logging community near the woods. He knew he wanted to pursue a career involving wild animals and fishing, with the opportunity to work outside. Francisco came to OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife for his undergraduate studies. As an undergrad, Francisco had the opportunity to explore research through the NSF REU program while working on a project related to algae in the lab of Brooke Penaluna. After he finishes his Master’s degree at OSU, Francisco would like to continue working as a data scientist in a federal or state agency.

Tune in on Sunday, June 24th at 7pm PST on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM, or listen live at kbvr.com/listen.  Also, check us out on Apple Podcasts!

It’s a Bird Eat Bird World

Female sage-grouse in eastern Oregon, 2017. Photo credit: Hannah White

Over the last half century, populations of Greater Sage-grouse – a relative of pheasants and chickens – have declined throughout their range. Habitat loss and degradation from wildfires is regarded as a primary threat to the future of sage-grouse in Oregon. This threat is exacerbated by the spread of invasive annual grasses (read: fuel for fires). In addition, raven populations, a predator of sage-grouse nests, are exploding. But how does all of this relate? PhD student Terrah Owens of Dr. Jonathan Dinkins lab in the Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences at Oregon State University and her colleagues are trying to find out.

Specifically, Terrah’s research is focused on the impact of wildfire burn areas – the burn footprint and edge – on sage-grouse predation pressure and how this influences habitat selection,

Terrah Owens with a radio-collared female sage-grouse in Nevada, 2015.

survival, and reproductive success. To do this work Terrah is characterizing six sites in Baker and Malheur counties, Oregon, based on their burn history, abundance of avian predators, shrub and flowering plant cover, as well as invasive annual grasses. To monitor sage-grouse populations, Terrah captures and radio-marks female sage-grouse to identify where the birds are nesting and if they are producing offspring. Additionally, Terrah conducts point counts to determine the density and abundance of avian predators (ravens, hawks, and eagles) in the area. Burn areas generally provide less protective cover for prey, making it an ideal hunting location for predators. Ultimately, Terrah hopes her work will help determine the best ways to allocate restoration funds through proactive, rather than reactive measures.

An encounter with a Bengal tiger at a petting zoo as a young girl inspired Terrah’s lifelong interest in wildlife conservation. As an undergraduate, Terrah studied Zoology at Humboldt State University in Arcata, CA. She then interned at Bonneville

Banding a juvenile California spotted owl, 2016.

Dam on the Columbia River for the California sea lion and salmon project. After this she went on to work for the U.S. Forest Service in northern California as a wildlife crew leader working with spotted owls, northern goshawk, fisher, and marten, among other species. She eventually moved on to work with sage-grouse in Nevada with the U.S Geological Survey.

After graduate school, Terrah would like to head a wildlife service research unit and apply her wealth of knowledge and government experience to bridge the gap between scientists and policymakers.

Join us on Sunday, December 10, at 7 PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM or stream live to learn more about Terrah’s research, how she captures sage-grouse, and her journey to graduate school.

You can also download Terrah’s iTunes Podcast Episode!

Keeping Oregon Forests Green: What Swiss Needle Cast Disease is Teaching Us About Forestry

I’ll never forget driving through the steep and windy I5 corridor of the Klamath Mountains when I moved to Oregon. Wet roads bordered by thick fog with protruding trees that were lusciously green. Very, very green. This concept of ‘Keeping Oregon Green’ started as a fire prevention act, and Oregon’s color is a quality that visitors and residents adore. Unfortunately there is sleeping giant that is gaining momentum, slowly turning Oregon’s forests from green to yellow with an eventual needle fall of the iconic state tree. This color change is from a microscopic fungus that all Douglas-fir trees have around the world, but for some reason it’s only harming the trees along the Oregon coast range. Our guest, a 4th year PhD student Patrick Bennett, is peeling away the layers of complexity to reveal why Oregon’s green forests are dwindling.

Aerial view of Douglas-fir stand with Swiss needle cast near Tillamook, Oregon. Chlorotic (yellow) foliage is a major symptom of the disease.

Douglas-fir needles with pseudothecia (fruiting bodies) of the fungus (Phaeocryptopus gaeumannii) emerging from the stomata.

It is estimated that Swiss Needle Cast disease is affecting nearly 1,000,000 acres in Oregon and Washington alone leading to economic losses estimated at $128 million per year. The fungus covers the stomata, openings in the needles, used to exchange air and water essential for plant metabolism. As more of these stomata become clogged the tree cannot make enough glucose so the needle dies, turns yellow, and eventually the needle falls off entirely. Douglas-fir trees typically keep needles for five years, but in heavily affected areas the needles last one year before falling off leaving the tree extremely thin and frail. Even though the fungus does not directly cause death, it leaves our iconic state tree highly susceptible to drought, beetles, nutrient limitations, and wildfires.

This disease was first discovered in Switzerland, hence the name Swiss Needle Cast, in the 1920’s. At that time it was only negatively affecting Douglas-fir trees planted outside their native habitat. But since the 1980’s the natively planted Douglas-fir trees, within a narrow band parallel to the coast range, are showing annual growth decreases by as much as 50%. Recently there have been advancements in molecular biology and computing power that allow researchers to identify the genetic heritage of pathogens. Using these tools scientists can focus on population genetics to figure out why there is such a discrete area affected along the Oregon coast range. Some evidence points to  warming winters and fungal-subspecies expansion as reasons for the spread of this fungal disease. But Patrick has indications to suggest it’s death by a thousand cuts and begs the question of whether the future of forestry is in danger.

Growing up in southern California Patrick wasn’t exposed to the forests he studies today. It wasn’t until he attended Humboldt State University where he got his first exposure to towering canopies and ecology. His first research experience was in the Lassen Volcanic National Park in California where his advisor, Dr. Patricia Siering, pushed him to develop his own scientific study. Needless to say he was hooked on science and after taking a mycology class he also knew he was jazzed on studying mushrooms so he continued his passions that lead him to Oregon State University.

Dr. Patricia Siering (Humboldt State University – Biology Department) collecting boiling hot sulfuric acid from Boiling Springs Lake in Lassen Volcanic National Park in Northern California with the help of undergraduates and graduate students.

Patrick Bennett is a 4th year PhD student in Dr. Jeff Stone’s lab in the department of Botany and Plant Pathology housed in the College of Agricultural Sciences where he is investigating how population genetics can be used to better understand the factors contributing to the recent emergence of Swiss Needle Cast as a damaging forest pathogen in the native range of Douglas-fir. Be sure to tune in Sunday April 30th at 7PM on KBVR Corvallis 88.7FM or by listening live.