Michelle Bacon spent her international internship caring for cheetahs in Namibia in southern Africa–and she loved it.

Michelle Bacon spent months with Cheetahs
Michelle Bacon spent months with Cheetahs

Imagine putting a piece of meat on a spoon attached to a one-foot-long stick and holding it out for a wild animal to eat. Michelle Bacon did just that and a lot more during her 11-week international internship in Africa.

Michelle, now a senior, discovered during her freshman year that she would have to complete an internship to get her degree in fisheries and wildlife. It didn’t take her long to realize that she wanted to do an international internship and work with large African predators.

So last summer she was in Namibia working with the Cheetah Conservation Fund, responsible for taking care of 28 cheetahs and 10 Anatolian Shepard puppies.

Each day differed from the previous, Michelle says. “I worked in a clinic with a veterinarian to take blood, skin, and hair samples from wild cheetahs, perform an autopsy, and take organ samples from a cheetah that had been hit by a car. I also picked up captured cheetahs to later release them back into the wild, and performed a medical workup in the bush on a brown hyena and a mother and cub leopard that had been caught by a visiting researcher.”

When large tourist or school groups visited, she says, “we would have a cheetah run, which is when they chase after a mechanical lure system, and when they catch it we reward them by giving them a piece of meat on a short stick. It is incredible to be so close to them and see the fastest land mammal in the world run!”

Michelle also was responsible for taking care of the Anatolian Shepard litter that was born the week after she arrived. The Cheetah Conservation Fund “breeds these dogs as livestock guarding dogs and then gives them to farmers in order to prevent cheetahs and other predators from taking livestock–a significant motivation to shoot cheetahs,” she says. “The hardest part was definitely not getting too attached to the 10 puppies, and keeping my affection to a minimum, as the dogs are supposed to be bonded to livestock and not humans.”

Now back in the U.S., Michelle is doing more normal things, such as finishing her studies and participating on the women’s rowing team, where she is co-captain for 2004-05.

But she won’t forget her summer in Namibia, saying it “was so incredible, and I feel so lucky that I had this opportunity.”

IE3 Global Internships

Cheetah Conservation Fund website

Tim Fiez is part of the University Libraries team that developed a comprehensive website about the Willamette River Basin.

Time Fiez is developing a website for the Willamette Basin
Time Fiez is developing a website for the Willamette Basin

If you want to know more about the 13th largest river in the United States, whose basin is home to more than 2 million people, you’re looking for the online “Willamette Basin Explorer: Past, Present, Future.”

The website at http://willametteexplorer.info provides a history of the Willamette Basin, analysis of critical issues, mapping tools, video clips, links to publications, data sets, and many more helpful resources. It also explores different development options for the basin, and offers information to help people better understand the implications of land management decisions.

The site was developed by the OSU Libraries as part of the Willamette Basin Conservation Project, a two-year effort to provide Oregonians with more information to help make sound, informed land management decisions.

The initiative, funded by a $600,000 grant from the Meyer Memorial Trust, is a collaborative effort of the Institute for Natural Resources at Oregon State University, OSU Libraries, the University of Oregon, Willamette Restoration Initiative, and Defenders of Wildlife.

“The Willamette Basin is one of the most beautiful and productive regions in the country,” says Hal Salwasser, dean of OSU’s College of Forestry and a principal investigator on the project., “but its population is expected to double in the next 50 years, and we face challenges with water pollution, sensitive habitats, endangered species, and urban development.”

The web project builds on a research effort by the Pacific Northwest Ecosystem Research Consortium, a joint project of the Environmental Protection Agency, OSU, and the U of O. The OSU Libraries and the Institute for Natural Resources plan to use this site as a model for providing similar information to other areas in Oregon.

Willamette Basin Explorer website

Pacific Northwest Ecosystem Research Consortium website

Willamette Basin Planning Atlas book

Governor’s initiative for Willamette River cleanup

Willamette Basin Explorer news release

Robert Dziak uses a U.S. Navy hydrophone to listen to seafloor earthquakes off the Pacific Northwest coast.

Bob Dziak is working on listening to earthquakes
Bob Dziak is working on listening to earthquakes

Robert Dziak has seen–or rather heard–thousands of earthquakes in the Pacific Ocean off the Northwest coast during the past several years.

Dziak and other scientists are using U.S. Navy hydrophones to listen to the sounds of seafloor earthquakes and other phenomena from their laboratories. Many of the earthquakes aren’t even detectable by land-based devices.

Dziak, who has a dual appointment with OSU and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is stationed at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, says the hydrophones are providing scientists with critical information.

“It is the only real-time hydrophone system in the world–at least for civilians,” says Dziak. “It allows us to listen to the earthquakes as they occur, and when something unusual happens we can send out a group of scientists to study events as they unfold.”

Discover Magazine, in its top 100 science articles, recognized Dziak and five other Northwest researchers for documenting for the first time tectonic plate movement sucking water into the porous mix of rock and sediment beneath the ocean. The discovery was reported in the July 15 issue of the journal Nature.

“Just when you think you’re beginning to understand how the process works, there’s a new twist,” Dziak says. “There was an episode of seafloor spreading on a portion of the Juan de Fuca Ridge that was covered with about a hundred meters of sediment, and what usually happens in that case is that lava erupts onto the ocean floor and hot fluid is expelled into the water.

“In this case, though, it actually drew water down into the subsurface, which is something scientists have never before observed.” Dziak’s research also was honored in 2000 when he was awarded a prestigious Presidential Early Career Award, one of only 60 granted that year in the nation.

News release on use of hydrophones

Hatfield Marine Science Center website

Future ocean research instruments may create their own fuel by “eating” plankton.

Reimers is working on plankton fuel cell technology
Reimers is working on plankton fuel cell technology

During the past couple of years scientists have been able to use decomposing organic matter on the ocean floor to create fuel cells that can provide low levels of electrical power for months.

Now OSU researchers have gone a step farther, creating the same power-producing decomposition activity from plankton taken at the surface.

While the fuel cells on the floor provide power for equipment that doesn’t move, such as listening devices for earthquakes, this new development holds greater promise.

“By harnessing plankton power, we potentially could fuel autonomous mobile instruments that would glide through the water scooping up plankton like a basking shark, and converting that to electricity,” says Clare E. Reimers, a professor in the College of Oceanographic and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU and director of the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, a collaborative effort between OSU and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The power generated by the plankton isn’t large-scale, but if a free-gliding ocean instrument used the plankton in its path, it might extend its survey mission for months, or even years.

“The fuel is there–in the mud, or in the plankton,” says Reimers. “Our focus is on developing power for oceanographic equipment. Who knows what spin-offs will develop beyond that?”

Meanwhile the sea floor research goes on. In October Reimers, who works out of a lab in OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center at Newport, led a cruise off the Oregon coast where researchers deployed eight fuel cell prototypes along the ocean shelf. The instrumentation packages will stay imbedded in the sediment about 20 kilometers offshore for a year and then be recovered.

Plankton Power news article

Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies

The world’s largest tsunami wave tank may help reduce death and destruction caused by the big waves. Photo by Sol Neelman, The Oregonian

Visitors watch the wave lab in action
Visitors watch the wave lab in action

With more than half the U.S. population living within 50 miles of a coastline, the danger of a devastating tsunami is very real.

Tsunamis, usually caused by undersea earthquakes, move at the speed of a jetliner and can travel great distances. The waves can be more than 100 feet high as they come ashore and often rush miles inland over low-lying land.

Even distant earthquakes can result in serious tsunami damage. For example, a magnitude 9.2 earthquake that rocked Alaska in 1964 generated a tsunami that killed four children at Beverly Beach on the Oregon coast and killed 11 more people in Crescent City, California. In addition, it caused damage at Seaside, Newport, and other Oregon coastal communities.

Enter OSU’s new Tsunami Wave Basin at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory on campus.

By combining the latest in information technology with earthquake engineering, the facility, funded by a $4.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation, will enable researchers anywhere in the world to participate remotely in real-time experiments in the basin.

Using the basin, researchers will study how tsunamis behave in different kinds of ocean terrain, depths, and distances, along with the impacts they have when they reach land. “What we’re really interested in is what happens when a tsunami hits a coastline where people are,” says Dan Cox, director of the Hinsdale facility.

Harry Yeh, an OSU civil engineering professor and renowned tsunami researcher, said tsunamis are too unpredictable to allow scientists to conduct research in the field. “With this system, we can model bays and rivers to see how we can mitigate the damaging effects of a tsunami,” he says.

The tsunami basin is one of three wave tanks at the Hinsdale research lab, which has been used for studying the effects of waves since 1972.

The public will have an opportunity to see the facility in action during an open house October 16-18.

OSU news release on basin opening

Oregonian article on basin dedication

Wave basin produces Time Picture of the Week

Wave research laboratory home page

Tsunami facility open house set October 16-18

Suzanne Austin’s undergraduate research internship helps determine why bluebird populations are declining.
Internships help undergraduates succeed
Internships help undergraduates succeed

Working with researcher Tara Robinson, fisheries and wildlife senior Suzanne Austin was involved in a study to examine the population viability of the Western Bluebird.

At issue in Robinson’s research is an effort to determine why young birds often are killed in the nest, and then finding out whether something can be done about it.

Austin’s involvement in the project is part of an OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife requirement that students must complete two internships before they graduate. After the internships, most students enter their last year of undergraduate study with a refined sense of what they want to learn and what they want to do after they graduate.

“Most of our students are from urban areas,” says Rebecca Goggans, coordinator of the internship program. “They’ve seen a lot of nature shows on TV but don’t know how that translates into a career. So the internship is one of the best ways to give students an experience that allows them to synthesize the skills and theories they learned in class.”

And it seems to be working.

  • Spencer Rearden spent his internship monitoring salmon return in remote Alaskan rivers. He gathered data on the return to help establish quotas for commercial salmon fishing.
  • Jaimie Wisnowski did his internship in Wyoming working on the wolf recovery program in Grand Teton National Park and the Bridger-Teton National Forest.
  • Nemesia Herzstein learned during her internship as a naturalist at BLM’s Yaquina Head natural area on the Oregon coast that she not only loves to work with animals but also to teach people about them.

“The internship experience seems to make college much more meaningful for the students,” says Goggans. “They feel like they are at OSU for a reason.”

Kalkidan Tadesse is preparing for her future with research that could help protect alpacas and llamas from anemia.
Tadesse working on her research
Tadesse working on her research

This is a busy summer for Kalkidan Tadesse. As a participant in the McNair Scholar program, which provides rigorous academic preparation for doctoral education for low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented minority college students, she is doing lab work, participating in field students, working in the library, and participating in McNair seminars and field trips, while getting ready to write a final paper and give an oral presentation on her research at the end of the summer.

Kalkidan’s research is under the guidance of faculty mentors Susan Tornquist and Luiz Bermudez in the Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

The research involves the pathogenesis of an organism called Mycoplasma haemolama that attaches to the red blood cells of llamas and alpacas and can cause them to become anemic. “We have developed a very sensitive assay to detect the organism and are trying to find the best antibiotic therapy to actually eliminate the infection,” Tornquist says.

Pretty serious research for a college senior who has only been in the U.S. since 1996. Kalkidan was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After graduating from Grant High School in Portland with highest honors, she received a diversity achievement scholarship to attend OSU.

With the research she’s done the past couple of summers through the McNair program, Kalkidan says she expects to be well prepared for graduate work in chemistry.

The McNair Scholars Program

George Poinar’s research provides information about life millions of years ago.
George Poinar holds a piece of amber
George Poinar holds a piece of amber

Research by George Poinar has shown that amber can provide clues to the plants, animals, and climate of the ancient past.

“Amber has been touted for its medicinal values, and in World War II was used as a conductor in some rockets,” says Poinar, a courtesy professor of entomology at OSU. “It has been used in fine art and sculpture. But for scientific purposes, it gives us a view of the past unlike anything else that exists.”

Amber is an unusual stone that begins as sap flowing from certain trees. Sometimes insects, plants, or small animals become trapped in the sap and preserved in near-perfect condition. Over millions of years, the resin became amber, which can be found in a few areas of the world where conditions were just right.

The preservation properties of amber are so spectacular that Poinar was able years ago to extract ancient DNA from some of his insect specimens. This 130-million-year-old DNA is damaged but in some instances provides enough sequences to identify the insect it came from.

The results of Poinar’s research are covered in the book “Lebanese Amber: The Oldest Insect Ecosystem in Fossilized Resin,” published by the Oregon State University Press.

“Lebanese Amber,” published by OSU Press

Amber research news release

Large trees are a valuable habitat component for a variety of forest wildlife.

Wildlife ecologist Chris Maguire
Wildlife ecologist Chris Maguire

The Ecological Society of America recently determined that Oregon State University is the best in the nation in the field of forest ecology.

When it looked at faculty producing published new research on critical environmental issues, the society found that OSU is No. 1 in forest ecology and 11th in the broad fields of ecology, evolution, and behavior. That puts OSU on a par with Stanford and the University of Washington, and well ahead of most Ivy League schools.

The College of Forestry has world-class facilities and forest properties that enable OSU to deliver a first-rate educational experience, while conducting innovative basic and applied research. It helps, of course, that OSU is located near a wide array of forest ecosystems, from the coast to the mountains to the high desert.

In one aspect of research, Oregon State ecologists are investigating effects of managed forests on wildlife populations Wildlife ecologist Chris Maguire, an assistant professor in OSU’s Department of Forest Science, focuses her research on wildlife habitat relationships in forest environments, animal responses to environmental change, and the comparative importance of dead wood to terrestrial vertebrates across a variety of forest types.

“Oregon State is an incredible place to be for leading-edge environmental research,” Maguire says. “I consider myself fortunate to be involved in projects that have such immediate relevancy to how we manage forests in the Pacific Northwest.”

OSU’s innovative 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program, designed to bring native plants back to school grounds, is catching on around the state and may be on the verge of becoming nationwide.

Oregon elementary students
Oregon elementary students

An innovative program to bring native plants and wildlife back to school grounds is growing out of the Portland area and into rural Oregon.

Oregon State University’s 4-H Wildlife Stewards Program was founded four years ago by Maureen Hosty, an urban natural resources faculty member in the Multnomah County office of the OSU Extension Service. Since that time, she has watched the program grow like a vine maple.

Today, 4-H Wildlife Stewards programs can be found at 42 schools. Most are in the greater Portland area, but in recent months schools in the mid-Willamette Valley, central Oregon, on the coast, and in southern Oregon have established schoolyard natural areas.

Now the program is poised to go national. Hosty is working with the National 4-H Council to secure corporate and government funding that could return native landscapes to schools across the country.

For the past four years, program volunteers, parents, teachers and community members have worked to establish natural areas on school grounds that create habitat for native plants and wildlife-and a learning laboratory for students, for teaching sciences ranging from ecology to math. These combination natural area/laboratories boast butterfly gardens, native woodlands, flowers, nesting boxes, nurseries, bogs, and wetlands.

Volunteers help organize fund-raising efforts to provide the $2,000 to $5,000 in start-up costs necessary to establish a natural area as 4-H Wildlife Stewards usually receives no direct school district money.

At Rose City Park Elementary School in northeast Portland, volunteers reclaimed a patch of natural green from the city block of pavement that has surrounded the school building for more than 50 years. The spot was replenished with rich soil and planted with native bushes and flowers. A Brownie troop created an in-ground birdbath. Students added nesting boxes and a worm composting station.