OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of agricultural sciences

OSU ranked third nationally in best places to study natural resources

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University is ranked third by College Factual in its ranking of “Best Places to Study Natural Resources and Conservation.”

OSU is the only Northwest school on the list. Virginia Tech is ranked No. 1 nationally, followed by the University of Florida at No. 2. Fellow Pacific-12 Conference institution University of California is ranked seventh, while nearby University of California-Davis is eighth.

Oregon State has a national reputation for it natural resource programs. In recent years, it was ranked No. 1 in the nation in conservation biology by the journal, Conservation Biology. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently has ranked the university’s wildlife science program at tops in the nation, and its fisheries science program, second nationally.

The university also has been ranked ninth in the world by QS World University Rankings for its agriculture and forestry programs, which are a significant part of OSU’s natural resources curriculum.

College Factual is a ranking service begun in 2013 that uses outcomes-based data to help guide students in their college selection process. It uses data from the Department of Education and elsewhere to rank programs on overall excellence, affordability, graduation rates, and success of graduates finding jobs.

“Being ranked so highly at a national level is validation for the strong programs we have across the university that educate students and conduct research in the natural resources and conservation areas,” said Selina Heppell, interim head of OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

“It’s important to recognize the numerous partners we have – on campus and at our Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport,” she added. “Many of the scientists from state and federal agencies teach and mentor OSU students, providing invaluable experiential learning that really separates Oregon State from many other universities.”

 

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Selina Heppell, 541-737-9039

Wildlife ecologist working on teaching conservation in Africa

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A wildlife ecologist from Oregon was in Namibia last month, teaching a course to African students and faculty on the importance of maintaining connecting animal migration pathways when an American hunter killed a revered lion named Cecil in nearby Zimbabwe.

The irony was not lost on Susan Haig, a senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a professor of wildlife ecology at Oregon State University. Here she was at a tiny campus near the Okavango Delta in southern Africa, having paid her own way to teach a course on wildlife conservation to 35 African students, when a wealthy American trophy hunter fired the shot heard ‘round the world.

“The students thought it was just terrible,” Haig said. “It was an affront to their sense of nationalism that a person would come into Africa and do something like that. It was also ironic because their own government sells trophy hunting tags to foreign visitors.”

Haig said the shooting of Cecil underscores the lack of formal wildlife management programs in many African countries. Namibia has only one full-time wildlife professor in the country – and he is from Poland, she pointed out. Many of the Namibian students and faculty in her class are interested in pursuing a career in conservation and at least two may enroll this year at Oregon State if they can secure funding.

“Ideally, I would like to see a handful of Oregon State students go to the University of Namibia satellite campus at Katima and study each year, and bring a handful of Namibian students to OSU,” Haig said. “Oregon State is a national leader in conservation biology, and Katima is near one of the most important wildlife migration areas in Africa.”

The Okavango Delta is where several major rivers – including the Zambezi, Chobe, Okavango and others – meet in a huge wetland that provides critical habitat for a wide array of animals. The countries of Namibia, Angola, Zambia and Botswana recently signed an agreement to protect the migratory movements of large mammals in the region – an important first step in formalizing a conservation strategy, Haig said.

Botswana went so far as to ban many forms of hunting, she pointed out.

“Some of the governments are getting wise to the idea that there is more money to be made from tourism than from killing the animals,” she said. “There’s a pretty good job market now for tour guides, which is where a lot of students work. The next step is to get students at a younger age to think about conservation concepts.

“I would love to help start a grade-school curriculum about wildlife there,” she added. “The only time they think about lions is when they’re walking to school and worry about being attacked. One reason I wanted to teach the course in Katima is that there are so few opportunities for students there to learn about conservation – and these students are the future leaders of wildlife management.”

In her course, Haig discussed the importance of understanding wildlife corridors and migration patterns – and how that knowledge can be applied to other areas. One example, she said, is how the airline industry has studied migratory birds to reduce the frequency of plane crashes caused by collisions with birds.

She also outlined different ways to track animals, from molecular markers to listening devices to satellites. The students then had to design their own study. Haig and the students also had ample time to go into the field, where the diversity of Africa’s wildlife was on full display.

“There are more bird species in that one area of the Okavango Delta than in all of the United States and Canada combined,” Haig said. “We saw some incredible sights. One day we came upon a lioness with three cubs that had just killed a kudu, when a couple of hyenas arrived. They began calling and soon there were 23 of them. They assembled into a military-like position and systematically lunged at the lions until they ran off.

“Then the hyenas all started laughing, for lack of a better term, in that hyena-like way,” she added. “It was an incredible experience. I’ve never seen such organization and communication in animals.”

But her most memorable experiences came from traveling through small villages in Namibia, where she and incoming OSU student Kelly Huber gave away soccer balls. Haig, a veteran of trips to Africa and South America, had brought nearly a dozen deflated soccer balls on the trip and an air pump.

“The look in the eyes of the kids and parents when we brought out a soccer ball was unforgettable,” she said. “Outside of one village, we came across three little kids in the road and gave them a ball. Their eyes were just huge. It seems like such a small thing, but they acted like we had just given them a new house.”

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Sue Haig, 541-750-0981, susan.haig@usgs.gov

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Hippos in the Okavango Delta.

 

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A cheetah warily eyes the photographer.

 

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An African Grey Crowned Crane

OSU’s statewide programs meet more needs with legislature’s support

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s three statewide public service programs received a boost from the Oregon legislature with $14 million additional funds to support up to 40 new positions and stimulate new research and extension projects across the state.

The new funding package increases the programs’ base budget to $118 million for the biennium. Of that increased funding, $6 million will go to OSU’s Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station; $4.5 million to the OSU Extension Service; and $3.5 million to OSU’s Oregon Forest Research Laboratory.

“Oregonians everywhere in the state will see benefits from these expanded programs with new OSU faculty focused on important issues in their communities,” said Scott Reed, director of the OSU Extension Service and vice-provost for Outreach and Engagement at OSU.

Examples include:

  •  Urban communities: more local programs focused on healthy living and nutrition education; expanded programs to support small-scale farming and community food systems; and increased research and development in fermentation sciences.
  •  Willamette Valley: increased research and extension on honey-bee and pollinator health; integrated pest management and slug control in commercial crops; specialty seed breeding; and timber harvest management.
  •  Coastal communities: increased research and extension in seafood and shellfish safety; near-shore fishery management; increased support for the dairy industry and commercial cheese-making; and new research focused on managing forest lands that are also habitat for marbled murrelet, a threatened seabird that nests in coastal forests.
  •  Eastern Oregon: increased research and extension focused on rangeland ecology to support sage-grouse conservation; juniper harvest and manufacturing; and water and nutrient management in rotation cropping.

Throughout Oregon, there will be increased opportunities for students to participate in research and outreach through experiential learning programs in real-world settings.

“We are deeply grateful for the legislature’s support, which allows us to address more needs in more communities across the state,” said Dan Arp, director of the Agricultural Experiment Station and dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

The statewide programs will begin the hiring process this summer.

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Dan Arp, 541-737-2331, dan.arp@oregonstate.edu;

Scott Reed, 541-737-2713, scott.reed@oregonstate.edu;

Thomas Maness, 541-737-1585, thomas.maness@oregonstate.edu

Researchers studying Oregon’s “resident population” of gray whales

NEWPORT, Ore. – Every year, some 20,000 gray whales migrate between the breeding lagoons of Baja, Mexico, and the bountiful feeding grounds off British Columbia and Alaska, often passing close to shore along the Northwest coast – creating a popular tourist attraction.

For some reason, however, about 200 of these whales annually cut short their northern migration, opting instead to cavort along the coastline from northern California to Washington throughout much of the summer. Although they don’t live year-round off the Northwest coast, they are known informally as Oregon’s “resident” gray whales.

Scientists don’t know as much as they’d like about our ocean-dwelling neighbors, thus a team of researchers from Oregon State University, led by master’s student Florence van Tulder, aims to learn more. She is leading a project this summer to spot gray whales that like to frequent the Oregon coast, track their movements and behavior, and compare them with photo archives in an attempt to identify individual whales.

As part of the study, the OSU researchers will also monitor activities of commercial, charter and recreational fishing boats – as well as whale-watching vessels – to determine if they have an effect on the whales’ behavior.

“Our goal is not to curtail boat use in waters near whales, but to develop a list of best-practices that we can share with the fishing and whale-watching industries,” said van Tulder, who is a student in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “We’d like to learn more about these whales and better understand how and where they feed along the Oregon coast.”

For the next several weeks, van Tulder and her research team will set up viewing locations at two popular waysides – Port Orford and Boiler Bay State Park near Depoe Bay. There they will use a surveyor’s instrument called a theodolite to track and map the movement of individual whales at a fine scale as they forage. The data collected will tell them how the whales use different areas, how they search for food patches, and how they interact with vessels.

During the team’s first week at Boiler Bay, they spotted a whale with overlapping spots on its tail that they nicknamed ‘Mitosis.’ The whale did a quick “drive-by” and left the study area, but returned two days later and foraged for more than three hours in one small area of just a few hundred yards. The following day, Mitosis arrived again and didn’t stay as long, but covered a much broader area.

“We think the reason they’re attracted to these foraging hotspots along the Oregon coast is an abundance of mysid shrimp,” van Tulder said. “During summer months, the mysid can be really dense, from the seafloor to the surface, and really close to the shore. We want to know if this wealth of foraging is enough to get them to disrupt their migration north. Or is there some other mechanism at work that makes 200 whales act differently than the other 20,000? That’s what we hope to find out.

“There’s also the question of how they even locate the shrimp,” she added. “Gray whales don’t use echo-location, so how do these whales search for and find dense prey patches? It may be possible that this knowledge is passed along from mother to calf among this population subset.”

Gray whales are one of the few endangered species success stories, scientists say. The population of eastern gray whales has recovered from the exploitation of 20th-century whaling to become robust. Their near-shore migration has spawned a new industry of whale-watching along the Oregon coast that in 2009 was worth an estimated $29 million – a figure likely higher today.

Leigh Torres, an OSU whale specialist with the Marine Mammal Institute who is van Tulder’s mentor for the project, said the work done this summer by the student research team will help scientists learn more about how the whales use their habitat – and interact with humans.

“There is still a lot we don’t know about these whales, so the fine-scale tracking of their feeding behavior, with concurrent tracks of vessels, will be very enlightening,” Torres said. “We’d like to know more about how gray whale foraging strategies differ between the two study sites or when there is a dependent calf, or multiple whales are around.

“We’re also interested in how the whales behave when there are boats in the vicinity,” Torres added. “Are there behavior differences based on boat traffic and composition? Whales might react to some boats, but perhaps not others based on speed, approach, motor type, etc. We hope to give back to the whale and fishing industries what we’ve learned so they can establish their own guidelines about how close to get to whales so they can maintain a profitable business and the whales can continue to utilize the habitat.”

Federal law prohibits boats from approaching within 100 yards of whales.

The researchers also are interested in whether other gray whales may be joining the group of 200.

“It’s possible that other gray whales historically did what this population subset is doing now, but got away from it for some reason,” she said. “Or it may be that some whales are just opportunistic and want to stick around and chow down on the shrimp. With a long-term study, we hope to find out.”

van Tulder and her research team will alternate between Port Orford and Boiler Bay through mid-September and welcome interaction from the public.

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Florence van Tulder, 206-491-1166, vantuldf@onid.oregonstate.edu;


Leigh Torres, 541-867-0895, leigh.torres@oregonstate.edu 

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The OSU research team at Port Orford.

Researchers conclude popular rockfish is actually two distinct species

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new analysis confirms that the Blue Rockfish (Sebastes mystinus), a popular and commercially significant rockfish sought by anglers primarily off the California and Oregon coasts, is actually two separate and distinct species.

Previous studies had discovered some genetic differences between two groups of Blue Rockfishes, but their status as distinct species had never been proven until researchers at Oregon State University, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the California State University, Los Angeles, demonstrated distinguishing differences in anatomy, coloration, geographic distribution and genetics.

Results of the study have been published in the Fishery Bulletin.

“Various researchers have written about the Blue Rockfish for years but it has never been morphologically described as two separate species,” said Ben Frable, an OSU graduate student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and lead author on the study.  “There are physical, genetic, and apparent behavioral differences between the two species.”

Frable and his team named the newly described species Deacon Rockfish (Sebastes diaconus) – a tribute to the nickname given Blue Rockfish by Portuguese fishermen around San Francisco in the 19th century. They called it the “priest fish” because the white bands around its head resembled a clerical collar.

D. Wolfe Wagman, a marine biologist with ODFW and co-author on the study, said the discovery may in the future alter how resource managers approach rockfish harvest regulations, which have been partially restricted in 2015.

Under a federally established management system, Blue Rockfish are counted as a single species belonging to the “minor near-shore rockfish complex,” which saw significant reductions in allowable harvest in 2015. In addition to Blue Rockfish, this complex of 11 species includes China, Quillback and Copper rockfishes – all three of which cannot be legally harvested by recreational fishers in Oregon this year – thus concentrating angling efforts on Black and Blue rockfishes, Wagman said.

“Black Rockfish are the major target of the complex and have a separate quota, set at 440 metric tons,” Wagman said. “But the Blue Rockfish quota is much lower and ODFW is concerned that if fishing efforts exceed that quota, then all groundfish fishing would have to stop in Oregon because even incidental catch and release of Blue Rockfish would exceed the quota.”

However, the discovery of the new Blue Rockfish species throws a different wrinkle into the equation. The original species, Sebastes mystinus, is more prevalent in California, while the newly identified Deacon Rockfish is found from northern California all the way to the Salish Sea near Vancouver, B.C.

Both groups are found off the Oregon coast.

“This may eventually lead to separate quotas, but as of now – as long as they are still categorized in the ‘minor near-shore rockfish complex’ – they have to be managed as one group with China, Quillback, Copper and other rockfishes in the complex,” Wagman said.

Brian Sidlauskas, an OSU ichthyologist and the university’s Curator of Fishes, said there is no reason to believe that either species of Blue Rockfish is endangered, but that population surveys need to be done.

“The original Blue Rockfish (Sebastes mystinus) is considered exploited in parts of California, but the Deacon Rockfish seems fairly robust from Oregon northward,” Sidlauskas said. “In some areas, you find the two species together, yet we haven’t seen any evidence of hybridization.”

Wagman approached Sidlauskas in 2012 and asked him to formally study the taxonomy of the Blue Rockfish. Andres Aguilar, a fish scientist from California State University, Los Angeles, who had participated in some of the earlier genetic analysis, joined the team as did Frable, who was tasked with examining the historical record, including preserved specimens housed in ichthyological collections throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Those records date back to the 1800s and Frable examined 130 museum specimens collected from Vancouver Island to northern Baja Mexico to look for differences and similarities in fish caught over the past century. To formally “describe” the two species, Frable and colleagues measured their spines, scales, eye width, dorsal fin length, tip-to-tail length, and other characteristics; and quantified differences in body shape, proportion and growth. Some of the 35 measurements were clearly distinct between the species.

“There are also some possible differences that may require more research,” Frable said. “In talking with port samplers, it seems like Deacon Rockfish are caught in slightly deeper waters, while the original Blue Rockfish is more often found closer to shore. That could prove to be helpful from a management standpoint.”

Sidlauskas said the research underscores the importance of preserving historical collections of fishes and other species.

“Ben had access to a network of ichthyology collections that provide a wealth of data over time and space,” he pointed out. “Some of these fish were preserved 120 to 130 years ago, and that historical perspective is invaluable in providing context for what we see today.”

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Ben Frable, 240-401-9858, bwfrable@gmail.com;

Brian Sidlauskas, 541-737-6789, brian.sidlauskas@oregonstate.edu;

Wolfe Wagman, 541-867-0300, ext. 289, david.w.wagman@state.or.us

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Old species alive

Original species of Blue Rockfish



 

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Newly identified Deacon Rockfish

OSU researchers discover the unicorn – seaweed that tastes like bacon!

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University researchers have patented a new strain of a succulent red marine algae called dulse that grows extraordinarily quickly, is packed full of protein and has an unusual trait when it is cooked.

This seaweed tastes like bacon.

Dulse (Palmaria sp.) grows in the wild along the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines. It is harvested and usually sold for up to $90 a pound in dried form as a cooking ingredient or nutritional supplement. But researcher Chris Langdon and colleagues at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center have created and patented a new strain of dulse – one he has been growing for the past 15 years.

This strain, which looks like translucent red lettuce, is an excellent source of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants – and it contains up to 16 percent protein in dry weight, Langdon said.

“The original goal was to create a super-food for abalone, because high-quality abalone is treasured, especially in Asia,” Langdon pointed out. “We were able to grow dulse-fed abalone at rates that exceeded those previously reported in the literature. There always has been an interest in growing dulse for human consumption, but we originally focused on using dulse as a food for abalone.”

The technology of growing abalone and dulse has been successfully implemented on a commercial scale by the Big Island Abalone Corporation in Hawaii.

Langdon’s change in perspective about dulse was triggered by a visit by Chuck Toombs, a faculty member in OSU’s College of Business, who stopped by Langdon’s office because he was looking for potential projects for his business students. He saw the dulse growing in bubbling containers outside of Langdon’s office and the proverbial light went on.

“Dulse is a super-food, with twice the nutritional value of kale,” Toombs said. “And OSU had developed this variety that can be farmed, with the potential for a new industry for Oregon.”

Toombs began working with OSU’s Food Innovation Center in Portland, where a product development team created a smorgasbord of new foods with dulse as the main ingredient. Among the most promising were a dulse-based rice cracker and salad dressing.

The research team received a grant from the Oregon Department of Agriculture to explore dulse as a “specialty crop” – the first time a seaweed had made the list, according to Food Innovation Center director Michael Morrissey.

That allowed the team to bring Jason Ball onto the project. The research chef previously had worked with the University of Copenhagen’s Nordic Food Lab, helping chefs there better use local ingredients.

“The Food Innovation Center team was working on creating products from dulse, whereas Jason brings a ‘culinary research’ chef’s perspective,” said Gil Sylvia, director of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. “The point that he and other chefs make is that fresh, high-quality seaweed is hard to get. ‘You bring us the seaweed,’ they say, ‘and we’ll do the creative stuff.’”

Several Portland-area chefs are now testing dulse as a fresh product and many believe it has significant potential in both its raw form and as a food ingredient.

Sylvia, who is a seafood economist, said that although dulse has great potential, no one has yet done a full analysis on whether a commercial operation would be economically feasible. “That fact that it grows rapidly, has high nutritional value, and can be used dried or fresh certainly makes it a strong candidate,” he said.

There are no commercial operations that grow dulse for human consumption in the United States, according to Langdon, who said it has been used as a food in northern Europe for centuries. The dulse sold in U.S. health food and nutrition stores is harvested, and is a different strain from the OSU-patented variety.

“In Europe, they add the powder to smoothies, or add flakes onto food,” Langdon said. “There hasn’t been a lot of interest in using it in a fresh form. But this stuff is pretty amazing. When you fry it, which I have done, it tastes like bacon, not seaweed. And it’s a pretty strong bacon flavor.”

The vegan market alone could comprise a niche.

Langdon, a professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at OSU and long-time leader of the Molluscan Broodstock Program, has two large tanks in which he can grow about 20-30 pounds of dulse a week. He has plans to up the production to 100 pounds a week. For now, they are using the dulse for research at the Food Innovation Center on dulse recipes and products.

However, Toombs’ MBA students are preparing a marketing plan for a new line of specialty foods and exploring the potential for a new aquaculture industry.

“The dulse grows using a water recirculation system,” Langdon said. “Theoretically, you could create an industry in eastern Oregon almost as easily as you could along the coast with a bit of supplementation. You just need a modest amount of seawater and some sunshine.”

The background of how Langdon and his colleagues developed dulse is outlined in the latest version of Oregon’s Agricultural Progress at : http://bit.ly/1fo9Doy

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Chris Langdon, 541-867-0231, chris.langdon@oregonstate.edu;  Chuck Toombs, 541-737-4087, Charles.Toombs@oregonstate.edu;

Michael Morrisey, 503-872-6656, Michael.Morrissey@oregonstate.edu;  Gil Sylvia, 541-867-0284, gil.sylvia@oregonstate.edu

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Dulse in its seaweed form

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Dulse prepared in a dish

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Chris Langdon near a vat of growing dulse

Toxic algal blooms behind Klamath River dams create health risks far downstream

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study has found that toxic algal blooms in reservoirs on the Klamath River can travel more than 180 miles downriver in a few days, survive passage through hydroelectric turbines and create unsafe water conditions on lower parts of the river in northern California.

Water-borne algal blooms can accumulate to concentrations that can pose health risks to people, pets and wildlife, and improved monitoring and public health outreach is needed to address this issue, researchers said.

The frequency, duration and magnitude of harmful algal blooms appear to be increasing.

The findings were made by researchers from Oregon State University, based on data from an extensive survey of the Klamath River in 2012, and just published in Harmful Algae, a professional journal.

The toxins may be a special concern if they are bioaccumulated in some animal species, such as freshwater mussels in which the level of the toxin can be more than 100 times higher than ambient concentrations.

“It’s clear that these harmful algal blooms can travel long distances on the river, delivering toxins to areas that are presently underappreciated, such as coastal margins,” said Timothy Otten, an OSU postdoctoral scholar in the OSU College of Science and College of Agricultural Sciences.

“And the blooms are dynamic, since they can move up and down in the water column and are physically distributed throughout the reservoir,” he said. “This means you can’t just measure water in one place and at one time and adequately estimate the public health risk.”

Microcystis is a seasonal blue-green cyanobacterium found around the world, preferring warm waters in lakes and reservoirs. Some strains are toxic, others are not. Its magnitude and persistence may increase with global climate change, researchers say, and it can cause a range of health issues, including liver damage, rashes, gastrointestinal illness, and other concerns. The toxin is not destroyed by boiling, making it unique from many other biological drinking water contaminants.

Improved awareness of the ability of blooms to travel significant distances downstream, and communication based on that, would help better inform the public, the OSU scientists said. But individual knowledge and awareness would also help.

“On a lake or river, if you see a green band along the shore or green scum on the surface, the water may not be safe to recreate in,” Otten said. “Because this problem is so diffuse, it's often not possible to put up posters or signs everywhere that there’s a problem in real-time, so people need to learn what to watch for.  Just as with poison ivy or oak, the general public needs to learn to recognize what these hazards look like, and know to avoid them in order to safeguard their own health.”

In this and other recent research, the OSU scientists have also developed genetic tools that can help identify problems with Microcystis, more quickly and at lower cost than some older methods. But those tools have not yet been widely adopted by the monitoring community.

“Right now, some lakes are not sampled at all for algal blooms, so we don’t really know if there’s a problem or not,” said Theo Dreher, the Pernot Professor and former chair of the Department of Microbiology in the OSU College of Science and College of Agricultural Sciences. “There’s no doubt we could use improved monitoring in highly used lakes and reservoirs, or in rivers downstream of them when toxic blooms are found.”

In this study, researchers found that intensive blooms of Microcystis in Iron Gate Reservoir on the Klamath River were the primary source of toxic algae observed downstream. They used genetic tracking technology to establish what many may have suspected when observing Microcystis in the lower reaches of the Klamath River. This transport of algae has been very little studied, even though it’s likely common.

The possible removal of dams on the Klamath River after 2020 may ultimately help mitigate this problem, the researchers said. Their study found no evidence of endemic Microcystis populations in the flowing regions of the Klamath River, both upstream and downstream of the Copco and Iron Gate reservoirs.

The problem with these bacteria is national and global in scope, especially in summer.

There are more than 123,000 lakes greater than 10 acres in size across the United States, and based on an EPA National Lakes Assessment, at least one-third may contain toxin-producing cyanobacteria. Dams, rising temperatures and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, extreme weather and increased runoff of nutrients from urban and agricultural lands are all compounding the problem.

Many large, eutrophic lakes such as Lake Erie are plagued each year by algal blooms so massive that they are visible from outer space. Dogs have died from drinking contaminated water, and sea otter deaths in Monterey Bay have been attributed to eating shellfish contaminated with toxin produced by Microsystis.

This study was supported by Pacificorp, the OSU Agricultural Experiment Station and the Mabel E. Pernot Trust.

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Tim Otten, 541-737-1796

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Toxic algal bloom
Toxic algal bloom

Decades of research yield natural dairy thickener with probiotic potential

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Microbiologists at Oregon State University have discovered and helped patent and commercialize a new type of dairy or food thickener, which may add probiotic characteristics to the products in which it’s used.

The thickener is now in commercial use, and OSU officials say it may have a significant impact in major industries. The global market for polymers such as this approaches $7 billion, and there are estimates the U.S. spends up to $120 billion a year on probiotic products such as yogurt, sour cream and buttermilk.

The new product is produced by a natural bacterium that was isolated in Oregon. It’s the result of decades of research, beginning in the early 1990s when a novel polymer with an ability to rapidly thicken milk was discovered by an OSU microbiologist. The polymer is known as Ropy 352 and produced by a non-disease-causing bacterium.

“This is one of many naturally occurring, non-disease-causing bacterial strains my research program isolated and studied for years,” said Janine Trempy, an OSU microbiologist. “We discovered that this bacterium had a brand-new, never-before reported grouping of genes that code for a unique polymer that naturally thickens milk. In basic research, we’ve also broadened our understanding of how and why non-disease-causing bacteria produce polymers.”

This polymer appears to give fermented foods a smooth, thick, creamy property, and may initially find uses in sour cream, yogurt, kefir, buttermilk, cream cheese and artisan soft cheeses. Composed of natural compounds, it offers a slightly sweet property and may improve the sensory characteristics of low-fat or no-fat foods. And unlike other polymers that are now commonly used as thickeners, it may add probiotic characteristics to foods, with associated health benefits.

“There are actually very few new, non-disease-causing bacterial strains that produce unique polymers with characteristics desirable and safe for food products,” Trempy said. “In the case of a dairy thickener, for instance, a bacterium such as Ropy 352 ferments the sugar in the milk and produces a substance that changes the milk’s properties.”

These are chemical processes driven by naturally occurring bacteria that do not cause disease in humans, Trempy said, but instead may contribute to human health through their probiotic potential.

One of the most common polymers, xanthum gum, has been in use since 1969 and is found in a huge range of food products, from canned foods to ice cream, pharmaceuticals and beauty products. Xanthum gum is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, but is derived from a bacterium known to be a plant pathogen and suspected of causing digestive distress or being “pyrogenic,” or fever-inducing.

Trempy’s research program has determined the new polymer will thicken whole and non-fat milk, lactose-free milk, coconut milk, rice milk, and other products designed for use in either dieting or gaining weight. Beyond that, the polymer may have a wide range of applications such as thickening of pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, fruit juices, cosmetics and personal care products.

In their broader uses, microbial polymers are used for food production, chemical production, detergents, cosmetics, paints, pesticides, fertilizers, film formers, lubricants, explosives, pharmaceutical production and waste treatment.

OSU recently agreed to a non-exclusive license for the patented Ropy 352 technology to a global market leader for dairy starter cultures. It’s also available for further licensing through OSU’s Office of Commercialization and Corporate Development.

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Janine Trempy, 541-737-4441

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Food thickener
Dairy thickener

Study finds shade, cover can reduce predation by birds on trout

CORVALLIS, Ore. – As snowpack levels decline with the warming climate, many streams will experience less water flow, especially during summer months, potentially exposing more fish to predation by birds and other animals.

A new study has found that providing adequate shade and cover in small streams may reduce predation on trout by as much as 12 percent, from just one species of bird – the kingfisher. The findings, based on a study at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center in the Alsea River basin, are being published in the journal Ecology of Freshwater Fish.

Lead author Brooke Penaluna, who is a research fish biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, said the findings may give fisheries managers a new tool to help mitigate the effects of climate change and better preserve fish populations during low-water regimes.

“We’re able to tell fisheries managers that they may be able to increase their trout population by 12 percent – and it may be higher,” said Penaluna, who led the research as a doctoral student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University. “It is possible that adding shade and cover to small streams may help protect trout against other predators as well.”

Avian predation of fish is hard to quantify in the wild because it is difficult to monitor and researchers don’t know how many fish are in a particular section of a stream. So Penaluna and her colleagues set up a study at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center where they could control the number of fish in a section of stream, monitor predation, and control the amount of cover available.

Using coastal cutthroat trout, they found that individual fish sought cover at least as large as their own bodies, and the addition of in-stream cover reduced the rate of predation from kingfishers by 12 percent. Trout also had better survival in areas with greater shade.

“It is generally assumed that shade is good for fish solely because of temperature,” said Jason Dunham, an aquatic ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and co-author on the study. “This study shows shade can make it more difficult for kingfishers to spot and catch fish. Kingfishers are the number one predators of small trout.”

“Eighty percent of the streams in the U.S. are the same size or smaller than those studied at the hatchery,” added Dunham, a courtesy faculty member in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “This study provides important information for streams that could be among the first affected by climate change.”

Cover is particularly important during late summer months when water levels are naturally low and deep pools are hard to find, the researchers say. Adding wood or rocks to streams for cover may help protect cutthroat trout and other fish at a low cost.

“The beauty of this study is in its simplicity,” said David Noakes, an OSU professor of fisheries and wildlife and director of the Oregon Hatchery Research Center. “We wanted to know the impact of shade and cover on fish, and Brooke was able to find that out. It is a very useful piece of knowledge.”

The study was funded by multiple sources. The Oregon Hatchery Research Center is a collaboration between the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

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Brooke Penaluna, 541-758-8783, bepenaluna@fs.fed.us; David Noakes, 541-737-1953, david.noakes@oregonstate.edu; Jason Dunham, 541-750-7397, jdunham@usgs.gov

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Trout

Solomon Islands dolphin hunts cast spotlight on small cetacean survival

NEWPORT, Ore. – A new study on the impact of ‘drive-hunting’ dolphins in the Solomon Islands is casting a spotlight on the increasing vulnerability of small cetaceans around the world.

From 1976 to 2013, more than 15,000 dolphins were killed by villagers in Fanalei alone, where a single dolphin tooth can fetch the equivalent of 70 cents ($0.70 U.S.) – an increase in value of five times just in the last decade.

Results of the Solomon Islands study are being reported this week online in the new journal, Royal Society Open Science.

“In the Solomon Islands, the hunting is as much about culture as economic value,” said Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University and co-author on the study. “In other parts of the world, however, the targeting of dolphins and other small cetaceans appears to be increasing as coastal fishing stocks decline.

“The hunting of large whales is managed by the International Whaling Commission,” added Baker, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. “But there is no international or inter-governmental organization to set quotas or provide management advice for hunting small cetaceans. Unregulated and often undocumented exploitation pose a real threat to the survival of local populations in some regions of the world.”

The drive-hunting of dolphins has a long history in the Solomon Islands, particularly at the island of Malaita, according to Marc Oremus, a biologist with the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium and lead author on the study. In 2010, the most active village, Fanalei, suspended hunting in exchange for financial compensation from an international non-governmental organization. The villagers resumed hunting in 2013.

“After the agreement broke down in 2013, a local newspaper reported that villagers had killed hundreds of dolphins in just a few months,” Oremus said. “So we went to take a look.”

Oremus and co-author John Leqata, a research officer with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, visited Fanalei in March of 2013 to document the impact on the population, and examine detailed records of the kills. During the first three months of that year, villagers killed more than 1,500 spotted dolphins, 159 spinner dolphins, and 15 bottlenose dolphins.

This is one of the largest documented hunts of dolphins in the world, rivaling even the more-industrialized hunting of dolphins in Japan, noted Baker, whose genetic identification research was featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary on dolphin exploitation, “The Cove.”

“It is also troubling that teeth are increasing in cash value, apparently creating a commercial incentive for hunting dolphins,” Baker said.

In drive-hunting, the hunters operate in close coordination from 20 to 30 traditional canoes. When dolphins are found, the hunters used rounded stones to create a clapping sound underwater. The hunters maneuver the canoes into a U-shape around the dolphins, using sound as an acoustic barrier to drive them toward shore where they are killed.

“The main objective of the hunt is to obtain dolphin teeth that are used in wedding ceremonies,” Oremus said. “The teeth and meat are also sold for cash.”

Oremus said the Solomon Island hunters understand the risk of exploiting the population.

“The government of the Solomon Islands has contributed substantially to research in recent years, but is not well-equipped to undertake the scale of research needed to estimate abundance and trends of the local dolphin population,” Oremus said. “This problem exists in many island nations with large ‘Exclusive Economic Zones.’”

The research was supported by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Pew Environmental Group and the International Whaling Commission.

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Scott Baker, 541-272-0560, scott.baker@oregonstate.edu

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dolphinteeth

Dolphin teeth are sold for necklaces