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.

Elucidating protein structure with crystals

Kelsey in the lab pipetting one of her many buffers!

Proteins are the workhorse molecules of the cell, contributing to diverse processes such as eyesight, food breakdown, and disabling of pathogens. Although cells cannot function without helper proteins, they’re so small that it’s impossible to view them without the aid of special tools. Proteins are encoded by RNA, and RNA is encoded by DNA; when DNA is mutated, the downstream structure of the protein can be impacted. When proteins become dysfunctional as part of disease, understanding how and why they behave differently can lead to the development of a therapy. In Andy Karplus’ lab in the Department of Biochemistry & Biophysics, PhD candidate Kelsey Kean uses a technique known as protein x-ray crystallography to study the relationship between protein structure and function.

Protein crystals. On the left, each blade making up this cluster is an individual crystal that needs to be separated before we can use them.

Protein diffraction. An individual crystal is placed in front of an x-ray beam and we collect the diffraction resulting from the x-ray hitting each atom in the protein crystal . Using the position and darkness of each spot (along with some other information), we can figure out where each atom in the crystal was originally positioned.

An electron density map. After collecting and processing our diffraction images, we get an electron density map (blue)- this shows us where all the electrons for each atom in the protein are- and this guides us in building in the atomic coordinates (yellow) for each part of the protein. It’s like a puzzle!

Crystallization of protein involves many steps, each of which presents its own unique challenges. A very pure protein sample is required to form an ordered crystal lattice, and hundreds of different buffer solutions are tested to find the ideal crystallization conditions. Sometimes crystals can take weeks, months, or a year to grow: it all depends on the protein. Once a crystal is obtained, Kelsey ships it to the synchrotron at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which provides a source of ultra powerful x-ray light beams. Exposure of the protein crystal to x-ray light results in a diffraction pattern, which is caused by the x-ray light diffracting off of all the atoms in the crystal. A map of electron density is generated from the diffraction pattern, and then the electron density map is used to determine where the atoms are located in the protein, like a complex puzzle. X-ray protein crystallography is really amazing because it allows you to visualize proteins at the atomic level!

In addition to her lab work, Kelsey is extensively involved in teaching and STEM outreach. For the past 3 summers, she has organized a week-long summer biochemistry camp through STEM Academy, with the help of a group of biochemistry graduate students. Kelsey has also been involved in Discovering the Scientist Within, a program providing 150 middle school girls with the opportunity to perform science experiments, including isolation of strawberry DNA and working with mutant zebrafish.

Kelsey completed her undergraduate degree in biochemistry with a minor in math at the University of Tulsa, where she was also a Division I athlete in rowing. She attributes her work ethic and time management skills to her involvement in Division I athletics, which required a significant commitment of time and focus outside of lab and coursework. During one summer when she wasn’t busy with competitive rowing, she performed experiments related to protein crystallography at the Hauptman-Woodward Medical Research Institute associated with the University at Buffalo.

Kelsey knew she wanted to pursue science from an early age. She grew up surrounded by scientists: her mom is a biochemist and her dad is a software engineer! She recalls playing with Nalgene squirt bottles as a kid, and participated in the Science Olympiad in middle school, where she engineered a Rube Goldberg machine. She cites early exposure to science from her family as one reason why she feels strongly about STEM outreach to students who might not otherwise receive encouragement or support. In the future, Kelsey would like to teach at a primarily undergraduate institution.

Please join us this Sunday, April 23rd on KBVR Corvallis 88.7FM at 7 pm PST  to hear much more about x-ray protein crystallography, STEM outreach, and to hear an awesome song of Kelsey’s choosing! You can also stream this episode live at www.kbvr.com/listen.

Beetle-Seq: Inferring the Phylogeny of Clivinini

We humans are far outnumbered by organisms that are much smaller and “less complex” than ourselves. The cartoon above depicts representatives of major groups of organisms, and each organism is drawn such that its size reflects the number of species contained within its group. The bird, the fish, and the trees look as expected, but you may notice the enormous beetle. No, beetles are not generally larger than trees or elephants, but there are more species of beetles than any other group of organisms. Beetles are a wonderful representative of the biodiversity of the earth because they can be found in almost every terrestrial and non-marine aquatic environment!

Examples of carabid beetles of the tribe Clivinini (top row; photos with ‘HG’ – Henri Goulet, otherwise – David Maddison). Male genitalia of a clivinine species, Ardistomis obliquata, with possible ‘copulatory weapons’ (right) and several examples of clivinine female genitalia (bottom row) modified from Zookeys 2012;(210):19-67 shared under CC BY 3.0.

Our guest this week, Antonio Gomez from the Department of Integrative Biology, studies a group of beetles called clivinines (pronounced kliv-i-nīnz) which has 1,200 species, and potentially more that have yet to be discovered. Antonio is also particularly interested in the morphological diversity and evolution of clivinine beetle sperm. Antonio wants to know: What is the evolutionary history of clivinine beetles? What is the pattern of morphological diversity of sperm in clivinine beetles, and how are sperm traits evolving? The objective is to collect beetles, study their form, sequence their DNA, and understand their diversification.

Several examples of sperm conjugates (cases where two or more sperm are physically joined and travel together) in carabid beetles. Conjugation is considered rare, but in carabid beetles, it’s the rule and not the exception to it. In many carabids, sperm leave the testis but do not individualize. Instead, they remain together and swim as a team.

This is no small task, but Antonio is well equipped with microscopes to dissect and describe beetle anatomy, a brain geared to pattern recognition, and some fresh tools for genome sequencing. All of this is used to build an evolutionary tree for beetles. This is kind of like a family tree, but with species instead of siblings or cousins. Antonio and other students in the lab of David Maddison are adding knowledge to the vastness of the beetle unknown, bit by bit, antenna by antenna, gene by gene.

Antonio Gomez collecting beetles near a really bright light (a mercury vapor light trap) near Patagonia, Arizona.

Like many of our graduate students at Oregon State, a group of great mentors can make all the difference. Before working with Dr. Kelly Miller at University of New Mexico, he never knew beetle phylogenetics meant exploring exotic locations around the world to collect and potentially discover new species. As an undergraduate, Antonio even named a species of water beetle, Prionohydrus marc, after the undergraduate research program that go him started as a beetle systematist, the Minority Access to Research Careers (MARC) program. Pretty amazing. That was not his first or last research project with insects before he joined ranks at Oregon State, he also was participated in a Research Experience for Undergraduate program at the California Academy of Sciences and completed a Master’s at University of Arizona. Now he has ample experience working with beetles and is maybe a little overwhelmed but still excited by the unknown beetle tree of life. Next on his list of questions: did the ancestor of all clivinines likely have sperm conjugation?

You’ll have to tune in on Sunday April, 16 at 7 pm to hear more about that evolutionary arms race!
Not in Corvallis? No sweat! Stream the show live.

Can’t get enough? Follow this link to learn about Stygoprous oregonensis, a blind subterranean diving beetle that had not been seen in 30 years. Recently, a team of researchers that included Antonio Gomez reported the discovery of more specimens, which allowed them to place Stygoporus in an evolutionary tree.

Just keep swimming or don’t! Curiously following Zebrafish

People often think of science as focusing on very specific questions or rigorous hypothesis testing. However, some of the most exciting advancements were the result of general curiosity of seemingly disparate ideas, and a sprinkle of creativity. For example, the beginnings of how electricity was discovered started by poking frog legs with different types of metals. The modern zero-calorie sugar (saccharin) was discovered by playing creative-chef with coal tar products in the 1870’s when the chemist accidentally tasted his chemical concoction.

Sarah Alto

Our guest this week is using young zebrafish to investigate how environmental factors affect their behavior, and whether behavioral changes can be attributed to specific brain activity. Why zebrafish you may ask? They are a model organisms or they tend to be well studied, relatively easy to breed and maintain in lab settings, and as vertebrates, they share some characteristics with humans. The more we know about zebrafish, the more clues we may have into our own neurobiology. Sarah Alto is exposing these model organisms to different levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide stress. She monitors their swimming with infrared cameras and examines their brain to get an idea of how they respond to stress physically and mentally. This is no easy task because the young zebrafish are only a few millimeters long!

Oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide gas is bubbled into the tank holding the larvae.
The entire set-up is enclosed in a light-tight box so the larval behavior is more connected to the environment changes and not human interaction.

Curious Sarah is asking: Are low oxygen or high carbon dioxide concentrations changing the swimming behavior of zebrafish? What happens in the brain of a zebrafish when it experiences environmental stress? What can we learn about how environmental factors shape the brain’s connections and influence behavior? Sarah has a long road ahead of her, one that is unpaved with many junctions, but she is performing the exploratory work that may inspire future investigations into the affects of stress on the brain.

The second part of Sarah’s research will be investigating the neural activity when the larvae are exposed to the same gas concentrations as studied in the behavioral experiments.
Image courtesy of Ahrens et al. (2013)

Prior to Sara’s interest in biology, she was always drawn to art as an escape and a method of expression. When choosing which colleges to attend, she didn’t want to choose between art and science. So she chose to pursue both! Sarah enrolled at UC Berkeley as double major including Molecular and Cellular Biology, as well as Practice of Art. The San Francisco art scene was highly accessible, and Berkeley is a top-flight university for the sciences. Needless to say she flourished in this environment and her love of science grew but her love of art continues to this day. Finishing her schooling she began working at UC San Francisco, a premier medical research university, investigating the role of stem cells in facial development to for possible medical treatments for facial reconstruction. She was involved in a variety of projects but her gut feeling led her to continue schooling at Oregon State.

Sarah is now a part of Dr. James Strother’s lab in the College of Science within the department of Integrative Biology focusing the behavioral neurobiology of zebrafish. Be sure to tune in Sunday April 9th at 7PM PST on 88.7FM or listen live.

Searching for viruses that make plants sick

Ripening sweet cherries in Mosier, Oregon. Photo credit: Lauri Lutes

When plants get sick, they can’t be treated or cured in the same way as people who receive medicine for an illness.  Plants require specialized care by scientists who are uniquely equipped to study and treat their diseases.  As a graduate student in the lab of Dr. Jay Pscheidt in the Department of Botany and Plant Pathology, Lauri Lutes is a plant doctor looking for viruses that infect sweet cherry trees in Oregon. She is able to identify an infected sweet cherry tree by looking at symptoms, including yellow rings or discolored mottling on the leaves, or fruit that is smaller than normal. To pinpoint the identity of the virus, further tests in the lab are performed.

Mottling and ringspot symptoms on sweet cherry, Prunus avium, in Umpqua Valley, Oregon. Photo Credit: Jay W. Pscheidt

Sweet cherries are one of Oregon’s top commodities, with 12,300 acres of sweet cherry production near the Dalles and Hood River, and 3,200 acres in the Willamette valley. There are a few viruses that the Oregon Department of Agriculture looks for each year, including Plum pox virus, a quarantine pathogen in the United States. However, if sweet cherry trees are infected with something other than the most common or most damaging viruses, they may never receive a diagnosis! Lauri works with the Oregon Sweet Cherry Commission to determine where diseased sweet cherry trees are located in Oregon. During her time at OSU, Lauri has discovered a virus infecting sweet cherry trees in the Dalles region that had never been reported in Oregon!

Lauri Lutes collecting leaf samples from sweet cherry trees in The Dalles, Oregon. Photo credit: Lauri Lutes

As an undergraduate student majoring in biology at Indiana University South Bend, Lauri discovered her passion for plant biology after taking a plant systematics course. Her undergraduate research consisted of studying fungal pathogens in a native waterleaf plant that grows in the forest floor of Indiana. Lauri attributes her positive experiences in undergraduate classes and research to female professors who provided encouragement and strong mentoring. After the birth of her daughter during her senior year of college, Lauri’s path toward attending grad school diverged, and she began working at a plant pathogen diagnostics company, Agdia, Inc. There, she used magnetic particles to purify viruses from plant material and co-developed a Technical Support Department. Curiosity driven, she found that she still wanted a deeper foundation in plant pathology, which led her to pursue graduate work at OSU.

View of Mount Hood from sweet cherry orchard in Parkdale, Oregon. Photo credit: Lauri Lutes

In addition to her work with sweet cherry tree viruses, Lauri is enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in College and University Teaching (GCCUT) program, and is active in science communication, having recently been selected to attend ComSciCon-PNW (Communicating Science Conference) in Seattle. After grad school, Lauri is considering teaching at the university level and continuing her involvement in science communication. As the first person in her family to complete an advanced degree, she hopes to inspire and expose her daughter to educational opportunities she might not have had otherwise.

Please join us this Sunday, April 2nd on KBVR Corvallis 88.7FM at 7 pm PST, to hear much more about Lauri’s journey through grad school, and her research about sweet cherry tree viruses. 

You can also stream this episode live at www.kbvr.com/listen.

View from a sweet cherry orchard in the Hood River, Oregon. Photo credit: Lauri Lutes

History repeated…but more interesting

Hiking Colca Canyon in Peru

Following a devastating period of violence during Pablo Escobar’s reign, Colombia has become one of the safest countries in South America. In rural Alaska, “mammoth hunters” seek out tusks make jewellery out of mammoth ivory. Opal Whiteley, the diarist and naturalist from the 1920s, became famous for allegedly fabricating much of her writing. The pre-code movies of the early 1930s included some pro-fascist films. Film preservationists hope to ensure the survival of some of the most rare films. While these topics may be familiar to history buffs, they remain unknown to the average magazine reader. Victoria Drexel hopes to tell, or retell, these stories in a way that will grab the attention of the airport traveler looking for some entertainment at 30,000 feet.

Growing up, Victoria’s mother taught her the importance of research and knowledge from a young age. She and her brother memorized flashcards that their mom made of historically important people, places, and events. During her high school and college years, Victoria developed a love for old movies. She started her college days at Florida State University as a film major with aspirations of becoming a screenwriter. She left with a bachelor’s degree in english with plans to travel. After two years in Spain, Portugal, and South Korea, Victoria came to Oregon State’s Master’s of fine arts program to focus on her writing.

Salmon fishing in the Chukchi Sea in NW Alaska

The art of long form magazine articles, or any writing for that matter, involves much more intricacy than many readers realize. The research process must be done properly to effectively utilize the available sources of information. Sentence structure must be practiced and refined to balance the objective details with exciting storytelling. Victoria has spent two years honing these skills and she is now combining them with her love of old movies and world travel. The result is history retold without the boring textbook dialogue, a change we can all appreciate.

Next time you’re in the airport, looking for something to read on that plane ride, keep an eye out for a magazine story by Victoria Drexel. I bet it’ll shine some light on a topic you never knew you’d love. And tune in this Sunday, March 12th at 7pm PST to hear more about Victoria’s writing.

No strings attached. Why some students need help, and how others provide assistance

When was the last time you helped someone? Do you hold the door open for the person behind you when you enter a building? Have you picked a stranded friend up at the airport recently? Would you let distant relatives stay at your house? Our willingness to help others is a common thread that defines us as humans, but our guest this week has made this basic tenet her life’s mission. This passion for people is a product of the long and arduous road she has had to walk.

Vesna Stone grew up in Macedonia, at a time of relative safety and stability in this little country nestled between Greece and Serbia. She knew peace and economic security would not last much longer in her country, so she sought a stable country and better life for her child. It took persistence and tenacity, but Vesna and her family finally acquired green cards. They flew directly to Corvallis to start their new life in America.

Vesna at the Rotary Visit of the Presidential Palace of Peru – the presidents desk. July, 2011.

Finding work as a foreigner is tough. Vesna’s english and people skills landed her a job at the Ramada Inn. Her husband however, who spoke no english, was struggling to find work. To solve that problem, Vesna made a very interesting wager with the manager at the Georgia Pacific mill. It worked out, and her husband worked there for many more years. After traveling all this way, an entry-level job wasn’t going to suffice for Vesna.

An education can often be the difference between minimum wage and a well paying job with benefits. So Vesna found a graveyard shift at Hewlett Packard (HP) and went back to school, first at Linn-Benton Community College, then at OSU. After years of going to class in the morning, taking care of the kids in the evening, and working all night, Vesna eventually got her bachelor’s degree. She moved on to the first class job she had dreamed of at the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Vesna completing her first degree at Oregon State

The Macedonian flag being installed in OSU’s Memorial Union. The flag is also referenced in their National Anthem: “Today over Macedonia, is being born the new sun of liberty. The Macedonians fight, for their own rights!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vesna is now back in school to pursue a Masters degree in Anthropology. She has focused on a problem affecting students around the country. Many are faced with the impossible hurdle of not having enough food to eat. To put it in perspective, 20% of Oregonians are participating in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, as of 2015. Oregon has a resident participation rate that falls in the top five states in our country, however, even here, there are additional hurdles to receiving assistance if you are a student. Imagine studying for your midterms without lunch, or coffee, or the ability to snack on your pretzels to help you cram in that last chapter. Now imagine the frustration fellow classmates have when they realize it’s easier to participate in this crucial food assistance program if they were not enrolled in classes and instead sitting at home.

Vesna saw this problem not through scientific journals or reading the newspaper, but through her own eyes and ears. While working at the DHS, she kept hearing the frustration from students trying to get the assistance they desperately need. Those conversations with students, and her unending passion for wanting to help others, has lead Vesna to pursue a Masters degree while also being a full-time employee at a local office in the DHS.

There is so much more to this story that we’re leaving out, but to hear about Vesna’s experiences and future directions be sure to tune in Sunday February 12th at 7PM on 88.7FM, or listen live!

EDIT: For those looking for more information on the SNAPS program, you can see Vesna’s presentation provided by the Coalition of Graduate Employees, or OSU’s extension website. You can also find out more about Vesna on her website.

A very Hungry Caterpillar, a very Tenacious Scientist

Tyria jacobaeae (cinnabar moth) caterpillars chowing down on Senecio triangularis at Marys Peak summer 2014

Tyria jacobaeae (cinnabar moth) adult Photographer: Eric Coombs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our guest this week is Madison Rodman who recently finished her Master’s degree in Botany and Plant Pathology. Growing up as the daughter of crime lab scientist and an ecologist in North Dakota, Madison told us that there was not a singular moment when she knew she wanted to do science; she always loved the outdoors. It is no surprise that Madison is a go-getter and a very organized scientist herself, but her science story is less than typical. Madison’s first research experience involved hiking through the jungles of Thailand surveying for tigers! While wildly adventurous, this trip taught Madison that field work is not all rainbows and tiger stripes, but that there are venomous snakes in the jungle and tigers are good at hiding. What drew Madison to this field trip was the opportunity to see the organism in its habitat, but she also realized that all the lovely jungle plants were hiding in plain sight and waiting to be surveyed as well.

Madison Rodman poses with her research organism Senecio triangularis summer 2016

Upon returning to Minneapolis to continue her undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota, Madison focused on Plant Biology and realized that plant-insect interactions were something that interested her. She applied for a Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) at the University of Michigan, and spent the summer investigating the impact of atmospheric CO2 levels on plant chemistry and how changes in leaf defense chemistry affects herbivores. This was the pièce de résistance of a science project combining: whole organism science, plant-insect interactions, and climate change biology. Things were really coming together for Madison, and she knew she wanted to go on to graduate school and continue studying plant-insect interactions.

Manipulative experiment in action near Big Lake summer 2015

 

She did just that, and much much more, at Oregon State. Madison defended her Master’s thesis this winter, through which she studied the risk of a biocontrol agent, the cinnabar moth, on a native plant, Senecio triangularis, or arrow-leaf groundsel. These biocontrol caterpillars, will chomp the European tansy ragwort, an invasive weed, to the ground and look pretty cute doing it, but in some parts of Oregon they have recently switched to feeding on the native arrow-leaf groundsel. The good news: the tansy buffet is in low supply; the bad news: arrow-leaf groundsel is on the menu. How risky is the annual feeding of cinnabar moth caterpillars on arrow-leaf groundsel populations? Can caterpillar feeding have negative effects on the reproduction and survival of arrow-leaf groundsel? Both the arrow-leaf groundsel and the cinnabar moth are here to stay, but this native plant might be in trouble as annual temperatures continue to rise. You’ll have to tune in to hear more about the cinnabar moth and Madison’s field work in the high Cascades and Coast Range of Oregon. We promise it is all rainbows and moths…

Madison in her native habitat near Mount Hood summer 2016

Also at Oregon State, Madison has also been able to practice and boost her teaching skills through the Graduate Certificate in College and University Teaching (GCCUT) program. She has always loved communicating science, from being an undergraduate teaching assistant at U of MN to intern at Wind Cave National Park. Madison hopes to stay involved in teaching and community outreach after grad school when she relocates to Minnesota. We’re so excited to present her perspective on graduate school and share her science story.

Tune in to KBVR Corvallis 88.7FM this Sunday February, 5 at 7 pm PST to hear Madison’s story and learn about plant-insect interactions. You will not want to miss her take on graduate school, biocontrol, and beyond.

Not a local listener? Don’t fret, you can stream this episode live at www.kbvr.com/listen.

Inspiration Dissemination is happy to announce its addition to the KBVR archive as a podcast! Listen to this episode whenever and where ever you have internet access. Link TBA.

Diving for Discovery

Jon and others looking at the way that light passes through an obsidian artifact

Jon Krier was six-years-old when he found his first skull. He was on a walk with his mother in Wales, Alaska where his father worked as a surveyor. “She immediately told me to put it down,” he said. But he couldn’t shake his fascination: Where did the skull come from? Why did it have so many holes? Years later, after interviewing an elder, he learned that the area was the site of an ancient battle between the Siberian Yupik and Iñupiat tribes. Jon’s curiosity into humanity’s past grew throughout his childhood as he wandered the plains of Alaska, conducted experiments with the science kit that he toted around, and dissected animals he found.

 
After a detour in the security field in his twenties, Jon returned to college to study his passion, archaeology. He’s currently a Master of Arts candidate in Applied Anthropology; his primary research focus lies in helping locate former settlements along the Oregon coast and the Bering Sea. Under the direction of his advisor, ecological anthropologist Drew Gerkey and archaeologist Loren Davis, Jon uses geographic information systems to recreate ice age landscapes as far back as 20,000 years. The goal of this project is to predict the location of underwater archaeological sites off of the Oregon coast, as well as his childhood home along the Bering Sea.

Jon volunteering at the 2014 Connley Caves Field School, where he’s been volunteering for the last three years.

These predictive models are a potentially important key in locating possible underwater sites. Coastlines have shifted over the last 20,000 years, making it difficult to find and excavate former coastal settlements. If located, these sites can preserve important artifacts of the lives of our coastal predecessors.

Jon is also invested in employing native historical and cultural knowledge in his research. For a recent project, “20,000 Year of Isostatically Adjusted Paleoshorelines for Northern Oregon: the Tillamook Peninsula,” Jon worked with Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde to incorporate traditional knowledge into his research. The Tribes’ input included identifying place names and culturally important locations into the models. This helped researchers understand the cultural, geographic and natural resources of the area.

Jon inspects an artifact he found on a survey.

To learn more about Jon’s research and his journey to graduate school, tune in to hear our conversation on Sunday, January 29th at 7:00 pm on 88.7 FM KBVR Corvallis or listen live online.

Magical Mushrooms, Mischievous Molds

Panorama of the whitebark pine seedling at the Dorena Genetic Resource Center (USFS)

Did you know that whitebark pine is the highest elevation tree here in the Pacific Northwest? If you have driven the Rim Road of Crater Lake National Park, you may have noticed a huge gnarly tree lovingly known by few as the “Grandmother” whitebark pine. These trees withstand harsh winds and cold temperatures, giving them a krummholz or “crooked wood” appearance. Some grow nearly horizontal.

Zolton’s favorite whitebark pine at the rim of Crater Lake

As one of the few tree species that grow at high elevations, whitebark pine acts as an ecosystem foundation species, making it possible for other plants, fungi, and animals to utilize higher elevation environments. Growing together, a population of whitebark pines form ecological islands and promote biodiversity in subalpine areas. For example, the Clark’s Nutcracker and whitebark pine have been coevolving for eons. The Clark’s Nutcracker is the only bird that can break open the pine cones of whitebark pine. While the bird eats some of the seeds, it also cashes them and can disperse the seeds many miles away. Other species such as rodents and bears eat the seeds as well.

Much more research is needed to fully understand the ecological importance of whitebark pine in its characteristic ecosystem. However, recently whitebark pine research is focused on another interaction, that of whitebark pine with an invasive plant pathogen, white pine blister rust. Since the 1900s, this pathogen has dramatically reduced populations of whitebark pine and other 5-needle pines of North America. This means that whitebark pine populations and the biodiversity islands it forms at high elevations are in trouble.

Zolton with his experimental seedlings at Dorena.

Fortunately, some populations show natural resistance to the pathogen, and our guest, Zolton Bair from the department of Botany and Plant Pathology, is comparing the transcriptomes, the collection of genes expressed as RNA, of resistant and susceptible trees to understand tree defense against white pine blister rust. Be on the lookout for his dissertation defense this year!

As a teenager, Zolton loved collecting and identifying mushrooms. Through a class called magical mushrooms, mischievous molds he realized that fungi are very important to humans as food, medicine, and can be problematic for farmers. He became interested in plant pathology after conducting undergraduate research in a mycology lab that focused on the spread of fungal spores between agricultural fields.

Experimental plot: Keep off!

You do not want to miss this week’s episode of Inspiration Dissemination with our guest Zolton Bair. Tune into KBVR Corvallis 88.7 FM this Sunday January, 22 at 7 pm to hear about Zolton’s journey from barefoot mushroom hunting in Virginia to studying plant pathology here at Oregon State, and we promise you won’t be disappointed to learn more about the awesome tree story of whitebark pine.

Not a local listener? Follow this link to stream the show live.