OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of agricultural sciences

OSU student receives $132,000 EPA STAR fellowship

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Christina Murphy, a doctoral student at Oregon State University, has received a $132,000 Science to Achieve Results, or STAR fellowship, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Murphy, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at OSU, is conducting research on how best to manage dams to protect salmon.

STAR graduate fellows are selected from a large number of applications in a highly competitive review process, EPA officials say. Since the program began in 1995, the EPA has awarded nearly 2,000 students a total of more than $65 million in funding.

Murphy earned three honors bachelor’s degrees at OSU, in biology, fisheries and wildlife, and international studies, then conducted a Fulbright research project in Chile. She earned a master’s degree at the Universitat de Girona in Spain, and then returned to Oregon State to pursue her doctorate.

“Northwest reservoirs have different hydrologic regimes and changes in timing and magnitude of drawdown,” Murphy said. She is evaluating physical and chemical conditions in the water, as well as phytoplankton, zooplankton, benthic insects, diversity and populations of fish, and habitat availability within reservoirs – both before and after hydrologic changes – in order to inform decisions on dam and reservoir management.

Murphy is focusing her studies on four reservoirs in the upper Willamette basin in Oregon – Blue River, Fall Creek, Lookout Point and Hills Creek.

“The Pacific Northwest relies on hydropower for more than half of its electricity, with high-head dams forming large reservoirs on rivers historically supporting anadromous salmon,” Murphy said. “Improved understanding of the ecological mechanisms and responses of Pacific Northwest reservoirs with respect to water-level fluctuations is critical to ensuring ecologically sound practices for the long-term operation and greening of our hydropower infrastructure.”

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Christina Murphy, 541-505-1393, Christina.Murphy@oregonstate.edu

Salmon trucking success could open miles of historical spawning habitat

NEWPORT, Ore. – For the past several years, technicians have been trucking spring Chinook salmon above Foster Dam in Sweet Home to see if they would spawn, and if their offspring could survive the passage over the dam and subsequent ocean migration to eventually return as adults some 3-5 years later.

A new study examining the genetic origin of adult spring Chinook returning to Foster Dam offers definitive proof that the offspring survived, potentially opening up miles of spawning habitat on the upper South Santiam and other river systems.

Results of the study have been published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

“With a little human assistance, it is now clear that we can restore natural production to areas above some dams and there is prime habitat on some river systems, such as the North Santiam above Detroit Dam,” said Kathleen O’Malley, an Oregon State University geneticist and principal investigator on the project. “This could really contribute to the long-term population viability in some river systems.”

Some past studies have explored whether salmon that spawned above dams could survive as juveniles going back through the dams, but this new study is one of the first to assess whether those fish successfully would return years later as adults.

Beginning in 2007, technicians from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took genetic samples of adult salmon trucked above the dam. During the first two years, most of those adult salmon were reared in hatcheries and released as juveniles, but in 2009 they began using only wild-born fish, hoping to give a boost to that population. Since then, researchers have taken genetic samples from returning adult salmon to see if their parents were among those released above the dam.

The key is the “cohort replacement rate,” O’Malley said. If you release 100 female salmon above the dam, will you get at least 100 females from that population returning as adults to the dam for a rate of 1.0?  The researchers have to sample for several years to determine the success rate of one cohort, since spring Chinook can return as 3-, 4- or 5-year olds.

In 2007, ODFW released 385 hatchery-origin adult salmon and 18 wild-born salmon above Foster Dam, and the cohort replacement rate was .96. In 2008, 527 hatchery-origin fish and 163 wild-born fish were released, and the replacement rate was 1.16.

In 2009, the shift was made to all wild-born fish and ODFW released 434 spring Chinook above Foster Dam. When the researchers completed their genetic analysis for that year they found a cohort replacement rate of 1.56.

“It could be a one-year anomaly, or it may be an indication that wild-born fish are fitter and better able to survive and reproduce above the dams,” O’Malley said. “It is promising, though.”

Dams can limit downstream damage from potential floods, the researchers say, but there is little protection for spawning salmon above the dams. One flood occurred in 2010, and the researchers are just finishing their analysis of that year. Many of the spawning beds were wiped out, thus the cohort replacement rate likely will be lower. Although re-establishment of spawning activity above the dams has the potential to enhance productivity, those efforts are vulnerable to environmental processes.

“One limiting factor is that we don’t know for sure what an appropriate replacement rate is,” O’Malley pointed out. “We know that 1.0 is the bare minimum – one fish dies and another takes its place. But it won’t be clear what a good number will be to sustain and expand the population until we have several years of research.”

Researchers and fisheries managers note that ocean conditions play an important role in determining the number of adult salmon that survive to return and spawn, and can account for a significant amount of inter-annual variability in salmon abundance. It is important to have a population that is sufficiently productive across years in order to survive poor environmental conditions – in the ocean, or in fresh water – in any single given year.

ODFW also has released fish above dams on the North Santiam River and Fall Creek and OSU researchers are using genetics to monitor some of the first returning adults in these systems.

“One reason we think that the South Santiam reintroduction is going so well is that the reservoir is smaller and the dam is lower than in others systems in the Willamette basin,” O’Malley said. “The salmon’s downstream survival rate is likely higher than it may be on other river systems.”

The project is funded by the Army Corps of Engineers.

O’Malley is an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at OSU, who is affiliated with the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

Other authors on the study include Melissa Evans and Dave Jacobson of Oregon State; Jinliang Wang of the Zoological Society of London; and Michael Hogansen and Marc Johnson of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Evans, the lead author, now works for the Fish and Wildlife Department of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in Idaho.

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Kathleen O’Malley, 541-961-3311, kathleen.omalley@oregonstate.edu

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Aerial video of South Santiam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEb5l8lGtb8&

 

 

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Spring Chinook bypassing Foster Dam

 

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Foster Dam trapping operation

OSU names Susan Capalbo as senior vice provost for Academic Affairs

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Susan Capalbo, who heads the Department of Applied Economics at Oregon State University, has been named senior vice provost for Academic Affairs at OSU. She will begin her new duties on Oct. 1.

Capalbo replaces Brenda McComb, who will retire from this position on July 31, and who has served in a variety of leadership positions at the university.

As senior vice provost, Capalbo will support the university’s provost and executive vice president in matters related to faculty development, curricular operations, assessment and accreditation, strategic plan implementation, academic capacity planning, academic initiatives and special projects.

She also will serve on the OSU President’s Cabinet and Provost’s Council.

Among the primary responsibilities for the senior vice provost are leadership and coordination of faculty matters, including shaping faculty hiring, support and development of OSU faculty; oversight of curriculum matters, including curriculum development and review; acting as a liaison with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities and the Higher Education Coordinating Commission; and oversight of institutional planning and research.

“Susan Capalbo has been active in leading the development of the university’s updated strategic plan and other university-level initiatives,” said Ron Adams, interim provost and executive vice president. “Susan has an excellent track record as an educator, researcher and mentor. Her work as head of a large and complex department, and leading the strategic plan steering committee, will jump-start her into the role of senior vice provost.”

Capalbo, who has been at Oregon State since 2008, previously was on the faculty of Montana State University and the University of Maryland. Her research focuses on applied economics and policy related to sustainable agriculture and resource management.

She has a Ph.D. in agricultural economics from the University of California-Davis, and a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in economics from the University of Rhode Island.

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Ron Adams, 541-737-2111, ronald.lynn.adams@oregonstate.edu

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OSU researchers fix calculation error in study on fracking and human health

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A 2015 Oregon State University study that linked natural-gas fracking to increased air pollution and heightened health risks has been corrected by its authors.

The corrected article still concludes that natural gas extraction contributes polluting chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to the air, but at levels that would not be expected to increase lifetime cancer risk above the EPA threshold.

The researchers measured levels of airborne PAHs near several Ohio hydraulic-fracturing sites in 2014. PAHs have been linked to increased risk of cancer and respiratory diseases.

In their March 2015 article, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the researchers reported that PAH pollution from fracking could put a person living in the study area at a greater than a one-in-a-million risk of developing cancer during his or her life. One in a million is the threshold set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for unacceptable cancer risk.

The authors retracted the article on June 29, 2016, after they found an error in a complicated spreadsheet used to calculate the concentrations of various PAH chemicals in the air.

The researchers redid the calculations and submitted a corrected version of the article, which was published on July 11, 2016. It finds that the estimated risk for the maximum exposure to fracking-related PAH pollution in the study area is 0.04 in a million—well below the EPA’s threshold.

Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president for university relations, said the mistake came to light as the researchers were crunching numbers from a current project. In the process, he said, they discovered a similar calculation error in a 2014 study of PAH pollution of air and water during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which also was published in Environmental Science and Technology.

That article too was retracted on June 29, and the corrected article was published online on July 8.

“In both cases the researchers were using a complicated, multi-linked spreadsheet to analyze large quantities of data,” said Clark. “The error was an honest mistake that unfortunately slipped through the peer-review process. Our researchers knew they couldn’t let it stand, so they stepped forward and corrected the error.”  

The coauthors of the Ohio fracking study include OSU researchers Kim Anderson (College of Agricultural Sciences) and Laurel Kincl (College of Public Health and Human Sciences), and Erin Haynes of the University of Cincinnati. Anderson also coauthored the Deepwater Horizon study.

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OSU Press publishes “Ricky’s Atlas,” a sequel to its first children’s book

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon State University Press has published “Ricky’s Atlas: Mapping a Land on Fire,” a sequel to its first book aimed at children, written by two OSU faculty members.

In 2013, the press published “Ellie’s Log: Exploring the Forest Where the Great Tree Fell,” the story of two children exploring an old-growth forest in the Oregon Cascades. Written by Judith Li, and illustrated by M.L. Herring, the book received several honors, including the Green Earth Book Award Short List for books aimed at children., and an honorable mention from the John Burroughs Riverby Award Committee.

“Ricky’s Atlas” continues to explore the nature of Oregon, this time east of the Cascade Mountains, where Ricky Zamora and his friend Ellie delve further into the relationship between people, plants and animals, while dealing with a wildfire sparked by lightning.

The two young explorers hike across a natural prairie, climb a fire tower, study historical photos and maps, and learn about the role of fire in nature. Ricky’s love of map-making and his natural curiosity help shape the story.

“Upper elementary kids will enjoy the mixture of amazing adventures with actual historical, physical and ecological data about the region,” said Marty Brown, marketing manager for the OSU Press. “Woven into the story are the small pleasures of ranch life, intriguing stories of Native Americans and early settlers, and almost unbelievable views of ancient fossils.

“Ricky and Ellie’s explorations, accompanied by their hand-written notes, introduce readers to a very special landscape and history east of the Cascades.”

Li is a retired associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at OSU, where she worked as a stream ecologist and participated in the National Science Foundation-sponsored Long-Term Ecological Research program at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest.

Herring is a science writer and illustrator who heads the communications program in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

“Ricky’s Atlas” is available at book stores and for order at http://osupress.oregonstate.edu

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Marty Brown, 541-737-3866, marty.brown@oregonstate.edu

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An image of the book cover is available at: https://flic.kr/p/J5Fiyq

Oil and gas infrastructure doesn’t seem to deter nesting hawks

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Roads and petroleum wells in Wyoming’s oil and gas country don’t seem to interfere with the nesting of ferruginous hawks, according to recent findings by Oregon State University wildlife researchers.

In their three-year study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, wildlife biologists Zach Wallace and Patricia Kennedy found that the birds were equally likely to return to nests near energy infrastructure, such as roads and well pads, as to those farther away.

The birds’ nesting choices proved to be influenced more by abundance of prey animals such as ground squirrels, and by relatively sparse sagebrush cover, than by structures associated with oil and gas fields, the researchers concluded.

The study, conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service and Wyoming Department of Game and Fish, is the largest in the U.S. so far on the impacts of oil and gas development on the federally protected hawks, which are regarded as a “species of conservation concern” by some federal and state agencies.

But it’s too early, Wallace cautioned, to assume that oil and gas activities are benign.

“We don’t have pre-construction data,” he said, “so we were studying birds that had continued to nest after energy exploration began. It is possible that some hawks may already have abandoned the areas of densest development prior to our study.”

Kennedy said the long-term effect of energy development on abundance of prey is unknown.

“We know from the literature that ferruginous hawks can nest in working landscapes,” she said. “But we present our findings with some caution, because we don’t know what the thresholds are,” for habitat changes that will harm the birds’ reproductive success.

“Some prey species seem to thrive under disturbances from oil and gas development; others may not.”

Kennedy is a professor in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences stationed at the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Union, Ore. Wallace led the study as Kennedy’s master’s student and now works for Eagle Environmental, a conservation consulting firm in New Mexico.

The ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis) is the largest hawk species in North America. The birds are partially migratory, wintering as far south as central Mexico and returning north in the spring to breeding territories in the arid shrub- and grasslands of the western U.S.

The hawks nest in trees and rocky outcrops, returning to prior years’ nests if these are available. They also nest readily on human-made structures such as artificial nesting platforms, power poles, abandoned windmills, even gas condensation tanks. They will nest on the ground if elevated structures are not present, Kennedy said.

Birds that inhabit grasslands and shrublands are declining around the world primarily because of human-caused disturbances, Wallace said. He and Kennedy undertook the study to determine which of several key influences were most important in the hawks’ reuse of breeding territories and nesting success: abundance of prey, shrub cover, weather, type of nest substrate, and density of human structures such as roads and well pads.

The researchers counted hawk nests from a small airplane over three seasons, and they sampled prey species on the ground. Their study area covered nearly half the state of Wyoming and included both public and private land.

They divided the sampling territory into areas with low, medium and high density of oil and gas infrastructure. After the initial nest count, they monitored the nests during spring breeding season over the next two years to see whether the birds returned to prior years’ nests and how many young they produced.

Based on earlier research, they expected that returning birds would avoid nests within 1.5 kilometers of roads and well pads. Instead, they found that the birds were equally likely to come back to these nests as to the ones farther away.

The findings could affect the mitigation measures required of energy companies to protect wildlife habitat, said Wallace, which are now negotiated with land management authorities on a project-by-project basis.

“One of the strengths of our study is its broad spatial scale, which makes it more relevant to management decisions than the smaller-scale studies that have been done in the past,” he said. “We were able to study these hawks at the scale of their ecology, and also at the scale of oil and gas development.”

Wyoming’s oil and gas industry has grown rapidly since the late 20th century, although growth has slowed lately as prices for fossil fuels have declined.

“We collected an excellent, large dataset on the hawks’ nesting behavior in both disturbed and undisturbed areas,” Wallace said. “This study lays the groundwork for rigorous before-and-after studies if and when oil and gas drilling spreads into now-undeveloped areas.”

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Patricia Kennedy, 541-562-5129 X 31

pat.kennedy@oregonstate.edu

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Ferruginous hawk
Ferruginous hawk

“Eve” and descendants shape global sperm whale population structure

NEWPORT, Ore. – Although sperm whales have not been driven to the brink of extinction as have some other whales, a new study has found a remarkable lack of diversity in the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA within the species.

In fact, the mitochondrial DNA from more than a thousand sperm whales examined during the past 15 years came from a single “Eve” sperm whale tens of thousands of years ago, the researchers say.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Molecular Ecology.

While the exact origins of this sperm whale “Eve” remain uncertain, the study shows the importance of her female descendants in shaping global population structure, according to Alana Alexander, a University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute researcher who conducted the study while a doctoral student at Oregon State University.

“Although the male sperm whale is more famous in literature and cinema through ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘In the Heart of the Sea,’ the patterns in mitochondrial DNA show that female sperm whales are shaping genetic differentiation by sticking close to home,” Alexander said.

Working in the genetic lab of Scott Baker, associate director of Oregon State’s Marine Mammal Institute, Alexander combined DNA information from 1,091 previously studied samples with 542 newly obtained DNA profiles from sperm whales. The new samples were part of a global sampling of sperm whale populations made possible by the Ocean Alliance’s “Voyage of the Odyssey,” a five-and-a-half year circumnavigation of the globe, including some of the most remote regions of the world.

The new sampling, including sperm whales from the previously un-sampled Indian Ocean, revealed global patterns of genetic differentiation and diversity.

“Sperm whales have been in the fossil record for some 20 million years,” said Baker, a co-author on the study, “so the obvious question is how one maternal lineage could be so successful that it sweeps through the global population and no other lineages survive? At this point, we can only speculate about the reasons for this success, but evolutionary advances in feeding preferences and social strategies are plausible explanations.”

The researchers say female sperm whales demonstrate strong fidelity to local areas, and both feeding habits and social structure are important to determine to better manage the species. “There is a real risk of long-term declines in response to current anthropogenic threats, despite the sperm whale’s large worldwide population,” the authors wrote.

“One concern is that this very strong local fidelity may slow expansion of the species following whaling,” said Baker, a professor of fisheries and wildlife who works at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. “The Sri Lanka sperm whales, for example, don’t seem to mix with the Maldives whales, thus local anthropogenic threats could have a negative impact on local populations.”

The researchers note that while males are important for describing patterns in the nuclear DNA of sperm whales, ultimately the females shape the patterns within the species’ mitochondrial DNA.

“Although there is low mitochondrial DNA diversity there are strong patterns of differentiation, which implies that the global population structure in the sperm whale is shaped by females being ‘home-bodies’ – at the social group, regional and oceanic level,” Alexander said.

The study was funded by a Mamie Markham Award and a Lylian Brucefield Reynolds Award from the Hatfield Marine Science Center; a 2008-11 International Fulbright Science & Technology award to Alexander; and co-funded by the ASSURE program of the Department of Defense in partnership with the National Science Foundation REU Site program. Publication of the paper was supported in part by the Thomas G. Scott Publication Fund.

Other authors include Debbie Steel of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute; Kendra Hoekzema, OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife; Sarah Mesnick, NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center; Daniel Engelhaupt, HDR Inc.; and Iain Kerr and Roger Payne, Ocean Alliance.

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Scott Baker, 541-867-0255, scott.baker@oregonstate.edu;

Alana Alexander, 785-864-9886, alana.alexander@ku.edu

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This photo of a sperm whale pod was taken by Gabriel Barathieu: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sperm_whale_pod.jpg

Vitamin E protects critical nutrient, prevents neurologic damage and death in embryos

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers have discovered that a dietary deficiency of vitamin E in laboratory animals can cause significant neurological impairment in developing embryos, as well as physical abnormalities and embryonic death.

The study suggests that one mechanism leading to this damage may be loss of the role vitamin E plays in protecting levels of DHA, one of the most important of the omega-3 fatty acids that plays a crucial role in brain and cellular development.

The work, by scientists in the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, was done with zebrafish, a vertebrate that has neurologic development very similar to humans. They also have dietary needs that are more similar to humans than some other animal models.

In these fish, vitamin E-deficient embryos did not respond correctly to visual cues, had severe physical abnormalities as early as two days after fertilization, and many died before the end of five days.

The findings were published in Redox Biology, in work supported by the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation.

They take on special significance, researchers say, because more than 90 percent of the adults in the United States who do not take supplements have diets deficient in vitamin E.

“DHA in a developing embryo is very important for cell signaling and membrane development,” said Melissa McDougall, an OSU graduate research assistant in the Linus Pauling Institute and the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and lead author on this publication.

“Our research showed that adequate levels of vitamin E are important in preventing depletion of DHA in the embryo.

“Without enough DHA, there was also evidence for disruption of the structural integrity of cell membranes as a whole. It appears that vitamin E protects these critical lipids, such as DHA, from excessive depletion that can cause physical and behavioral damage.”

The study showed loss of locomotor activity in vitamin E-deficient embryos as a measure of impaired behavior. Vitamin E-deficient embryos were 82 percent less responsive to a light/dark stimulus.

Past research done elsewhere with rodents, McDougall said, has correlated low DHA levels with less memory and intelligence, and one study in Bangladesh with vitamin E-deficient pregnant women showed a higher level of miscarriage.

The recommended daily allowance of vitamin E for human adults is 15 milligrams a day, and the typical American diet rarely provides that. Vitamin E is most common in nuts, seeds, some leafy greens like spinach, and a few varieties of vegetable oils like sunflower and canola. Low-fat diets also present a special challenge in getting enough vitamin E.

Not all pre-natal vitamins even include vitamin E, McDougall said, although some of the better ones are now including not only vitamin E but also supplements of DHA, a nutrient most common in fatty fish. It’s worth noting, she said, that vitamin E cannot serve its role in protecting DHA if there is inadequate dietary DHA to begin with.

Most human brain development occurs during pregnancy, and some of the most important neurologic development happens during the first trimester.

The corresponding author on this publication was Maret Traber, the Helen P. Rumbel Professor for Micronutrient Research in the Linus Pauling Institute. Other collaborators were from the OSU College of Pharmacy, the Sinnhuber Aquatic Research Laboratory, the OSU Department of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology, and the OSU Environmental Health Sciences Center.

 

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Maret Traber, 541-737-7977

maret.traber@oregonstate.edu

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Zebrafish
Zebrafish

Study finds lack of diversity among fisheries scientists

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers who study fish put a high value on biodiversity in the field, yet a new study found a surprising lack of diversity among fisheries scientists themselves.

According to the 2010 United States Census, 51 percent of the people in the U.S. are women. That same year, a study of Ph.D. students in the biological sciences documented that 52 percent of the students pursuing doctorates were women – roughly the same percentage.

However, the new study by researchers at Oregon State University and the U.S. Forest Service found that roughly even split soon disappears – in both federal government positions and in academic institutions. The researchers found that 74 percent of federal fisheries scientists or managers are men, as were 73 percent of the university assistant professors, 71 percent of associate professors and 85 percent of full professors.

The lack of diversity is even more pronounced when analyzed by race. In 2010, the U.S. population was 64 percent white, and participation in biological sciences Ph.D. programs was 69 percent white. Yet only roughly 10 percent of all fisheries science, manager and faculty positions were occupied by minorities.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Bioscience.

“It is clear that the fisheries science culture is one dominated by white men,” said Ivan Arismendi, an Oregon State University research faculty scientist and lead author on the study.  “There has been a lot of concern expressed in recent years about diversity, but the numbers don’t seem to reflect that concern. It is important to begin turning the process today because the hiring we’re doing now will last a generation.”

Brooke Penaluna, a research fish biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station and co-author on the study, said the reasons for the disparity are not completely clear.

“We are graduating women on a 50-50 basis in the biological sciences, but the hiring rate is not keeping pace with the degree rate,” Penaluna said. “For some women, it may be the biological clock butting up against the timetable of career advancement. That doesn’t explain the disparity among minorities.

“We need to look more closely at possible institutional biases. Women, for example, have fewer professional publications and are not asked as often by senior-level scientists to publish. And some federal positions may be in geographic locations that are not attractive to all candidates. We need to create environments that are welcoming so people want to stay – and those conversations can be uncomfortable.”

The authors suggest diversity training and a diverse composition of search committees at both the federal and academic institution levels, as well as increasing the pool of female and minority candidates, and programs to insure their success and career advancement.

At Oregon State University, 28 percent of faculty members in fisheries science are women and 16 percent are non-white.  In December of 2015, OSU named Selina Heppell as head of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, the first female to lead the unit in its 80-year history.

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Sources: Ivan Arismendi, 541-750-7443, ivan.arismendi@oregonstate.edu;

Brooke Penaluna, 541-758-8783, brooke.penaluna@oregonstate.edu

Study shows forest thinning changes movement patterns, habitat use by martens

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists who for the first time used global positioning system (GPS) telemetry to monitor the movements of reclusive Pacific martens have discovered that these fierce, tiny mammals tend to avoid open stands of trees resulting from forest thinning.

That could put conservation efforts to protect martens at odds with modern forest management, but the researchers say there is a prescription that may work for both interests: maintaining forest thinning at lower elevations, which are less favored by martens, and preserve more high-elevation forests – which are at less risk for catastrophic wildfire – as complex, marten-friendly stands.

Results of the research, which was conducted in northern California, have just been published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.

“There are two main reasons that martens avoid open forests,” said Katie Moriarty, a post-doctoral research biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, who conducted the research as a doctoral student at Oregon State University. “Martens eat a lot of food – up to a quarter of their body weight a day. It would be like you eating 100 hamburgers. They need downed logs and dense sapling cover to hunt successfully.

“Since they are the size of a gray squirrel, the woods are a dangerous place. They need to avoid being eaten. And for them, a wide-open forest is like being dropped into Jurassic Park filled with velociraptors. They just won’t stay in those areas.”

The study is important because Pacific martens are considered an indicator species for ecosystem health, said Clinton Epps, an associate professor in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and co-author on the study. The key to the research was the use of GPS to observe a finer scale of the martens’ movements.

“We were able to collect the locations of tagged martens so frequently that we could infer their movements through tree stands rather than relying on a typical radio telemetry study,” Epps said. “There was clear evidence that their movement is affected by forest characteristics in different seasons.

“The spatial configuration of habitat is very important in these systems, even at the scale of an individual animal’s movement. The martens typically avoided simplified stands and they behaved differently if they used them.”

Much of the research was conducted in Lassen National Forest, which has the lowest documented annual survival rates for martens in North America – about 37 percent of them die each year. Forest lands are actively thinned, Moriarty said, although there is no established link between the survival rate and forest management practices. “We can’t assume a causal relationship,” she said.

What the researchers can document is how martens move through different forest types.

“Martens strongly selected complex forest stands over simple stands and openings,” said Moriarty, who is with the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Olympia, Washington. “Their movements were slower and more sinuous in complex stands with lots of cover. When they were in the open, their movements were more erratic and linear. Those altered patterns of movement in open forests appear to negatively affect the ability of martens to forage without increase risk of predation.”

Martens are one of the smaller members of the weasel family, weighing between one and two-and-a-half pounds – and they look something like a cross between a fox and a mink. Martens are “smaller than a Chihuahua,” Moriarty said, “but have the attitude of a pit bull. They really have a little man’s complex.”

Small but fierce predators, martens feast on snowshoe hare, chipmunks, voles and other small mammals, and also consume bird eggs and berries. They can survive rugged winters with snow more than a dozen feet deep.

“If martens are thriving in an area, that usually is a sign of a healthy ecosystem,” Moriarty said.

Moriarty’s work has paid off in more than one way. In 2008, while studying martens in Tahoe National Forest, she gathered photographic evidence of a wolverine – the first sighting of the animal in California in 75 years.

The marten research was funded by Lassen National Forest with assistance from the Pacific Southwest Research Station and OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

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Katie Moriarty, 360-753-7716, kmoriarty02@fs.fed.us;

Clint Epps, 541-737-2478, Clinton.epps@oregonstate.edu