OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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Study finds Oregon’s most common fish at least three distinct species

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study has found that the most common fish species in Oregon – the speckled dace – is actually at least three separate and distinct species.

The findings suggest that Oregon may have greater biological diversity in its native fish populations than previously recognized, said researchers at Oregon State University who led the study. The management implications for the discovery are not yet known.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

The speckled dace is a small minnow that appears in ponds, rivers, springs, lakes and other waterways from Canada to Mexico. It is the most common fish in Oregon, meaning that it appears in more bodies of water than any other fish, the researchers say, yet little is known about its genetic makeup.

“For some reason, the speckled dace has never been fully investigated,” said Kendra Hoekzema, a faculty research assistant in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and lead author on the study. “Yet it varies greatly in genetics and morphology and now we’re finding that more than one species is out there in a small corner of Oregon.

“Who knows how many other species there might be?” she added. “The Great Basin has a lot of springs.”

The study began as a review of the Foskett Spring speckled dace which, as a listed federally threatened subspecies, must be investigated every five years. This particular dace has only been found in a single spring within Warner Valley in southeast Oregon, and as part of her study, Hoekzema collected speckled dace from surrounding basins, including the Warner system, Goose Lake, Lake Abert, Silver Lake and the Malheur River system, as well as Stinking Lake Spring on the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.

DNA analysis led Hoekzema and co-author Brian Sidlauskas, an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at OSU, to determine that there are three “highly divergent” evolutionary lineages of speckled dace that warrant species-level status – the Malheur stream dace, Stinking Lake Spring dace, and dace from the other four basins combined.

“The speckled dace has been on the books for decades as one species and yet when we look at one small corner of Oregon, we find three distinct species,” Sidlauskas said. “Typically, when we think about new species being discovered, we think about some isolated part of the tropics. This is in our own backyard.”

“It goes to show both how much diversity may exist,” he added, “and how little we know about it.”

Hoekzema said the Stinking Lake Spring dace appeared to have branched off genetically some 2.5 million years ago, while the Foskett Spring dace – and perhaps others – became isolated just 10,000 years ago.

The researchers also recommended that the Foskett Spring dace should be listed as an “Evolutionarily Significant Unit” (ESU) and not a subspecies, a technical status change that would not necessarily affect how it is protected.

Paul Scheerer, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, has been working at Foskett Spring since 2005 evaluating population status, trends and habitat conditions. He and his colleagues became concerned, Scheerer said, that the speckled daces’ population was declining and that their habitat was shifting from open water vegetated habitat to emergent marsh.

The Bureau of Land Management, ODFW and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conducted controlled burns of some of the vegetation in 2009 and then excavated new pools fed by the spring.

“Foskett speckled dace quickly expanded into the new pools,” Scheerer said, “and since then we’ve experienced a seven-fold increase in the speckled dace to about 13,000 fish. We also introduced dace into nearby, recently restored ponds to expand their abundance and reduce the risk of catastrophic loss.

“The OSU study results suggest there are more dace species out there than we previously knew,” he added. “It will allow us to adequately protect and enhance these unique fish into the future. The work by OSU is invaluable and will allow us to better understand the diversity of the fish fauna that has evolved in these isolated desert basins.”

The management implications on a broader scale are unclear, Sidlauskas said, because while the new species have been recognized as genetically distinct, their full geographic ranges are unknown. Nevertheless, the discovery of a distinct, unrecognized and possibly endemic species within the Malheur refuge underscores the importance of such areas, he added.

“This suggests that the refuge may harbor even more diversity than we knew and highlights the importance of preserving and valuing such wild places,” Sidlauskas said.

Although the minnows, which grow to a length of about three inches, don’t carry the iconic status of Northwest salmon or steelhead, they are important parts of the food web in many areas. Many species of fish-eating fish love them.

“Speckled dace are the bon-bons of the fish world for piscatorial fish,” Sidlauskas said, “and they are likely important prey for birds and other animals as well.”

The study was funded by the Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences, and the OSU Research Office.

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Kendra Hoekzema, 541-737-6035, Kendra.hoekzema@oregonstate.edu; Brian Sidlauskas, 541-737-6789, brian.sidlauskas@oregonstate.edu

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Study of marine life near Newport finds no red flags for toxicity

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University scientists have examined a variety of coastal marine species near Newport, Ore., for concentrations of heavy metals and organic pollutants and found only trace amounts with no bioaccumulation of significant concern.

Their report is being presented May 19 to the City of Newport, which commissioned the study. It is available online at: http://www.thecityofnewport.net/

Newport city officials were concerned that effluent from a Georgia-Pacific containerboard plant outfall pipe, located some 4,000 feet off Nye Beach, may be exposing some marine life to contaminants. A 2010 study by CH2M-Hill looked for heavy metals in the surrounding water and sediments and found little with which to be concerned. Their study did not investigate marine organisms, however.

“There was some concern that metals and organic pollutants may be bioaccumulating in nearby marine life,” said Sarah Henkel, a marine ecologist at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center and primary investigator on the study. “We tested for 137 different chemicals and only detected 38 of them – none at levels that remotely approach concern for humans.”

The City of Newport had asked the OSU researchers to look at a variety of species, including flatfish (speckled sand dab), crustaceans (Dungeness crab and Crangon shrimp), and mollusks (mussels and olive snails) because they could bioaccumulate metals and organic pollutants at different rates. The researchers collected a variety of samples in 2012 near the G-P outfall, as well as at sites north of Yaquina Head and south of Yaquina Bay. In fall of 2013, they also collected and analyzed rock scallops.

The organisms were analyzed for trace metals including copper and lead, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and congeners, polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), which are used in flame-retardant materials, and other potentially carcinogenic compounds. They also were analyzed for organic-based compounds, which are commonly derived from pesticides.

Not a single organism was found with a bioaccumulation of metals or organic pollutants that approached levels of concern for humans established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the researchers reported.

“The system is pretty darn clean,” said Scott Heppell, a biologist with the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and co-primary investigator on the study.  “I was certainly interested personally going into the study because my family goes crabbing in some of the places we sampled. If we had found anything, we would have had to come up with a new place. But we found nothing approaching the level of intervention for humans and that’s reassuring.”

The OSU researchers did find one area of potential future concern – trace levels of arsenic in mussels at sites both north and south of Yaquina Bay. The arsenic levels were still below the FDA level of concern for human consumption (86 parts per million), Heppell said, but in some cases exceeded the established level of concern for impacts to the mussels themselves, which is 3.6 ppm. Some of the samples analyzed by the researchers reached 5.0 ppm.

“It is still 15 times lower than the threshold for human concern, but there is potential for damage to the mussels themselves,” Heppell said. “It is also worth noting because the arsenic was in virtually all of the mussel samples we collected on beaches from Seal Rock to north of Yaquina Head. There is no way to draw a link to the G-P outfall.

“But because it was so common, it may be a good idea to study mussel populations up and down the entire coast to see what arsenic levels are at beyond our study area.”

Arsenic is often used in pressure-treated lumber and wood preservatives, the researchers noted.

Among other findings:

  • The researchers found three derivatives of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, or DDT, a pesticide that has been banned for 40 years. Although it was detected at very small amounts, “the fact that it is still present in organisms four decades later shows why it was banned,” Henkel said.
  • No significant bioaccumulation could be attributed to the G-P outfall. In fact, fish, crabs and shrimp collected from subtidal sites away from the outfall often had higher concentrations of metals than those adjacent to the pipe, though still at levels safe for human consumption.
  • Two DDT derivatives (2,4’-DDE and 4,4’-DDD) were found in a single crab sample. Another, hexochloro-benzene, was detected in just two crab samples – at concentrations some 10,000 times less than the toxicity level listed as potentially affecting the crabs themselves.

“It is worth noting that the instrumentation today is so sensitive it can detect trace amounts of compounds at concentrations not possible just a few years ago,” Heppell said.

The OSU researchers praised the City of Newport for seeking data that potentially could have been damaging, yet was important to know.

“This is one of those reports that, thankfully, turns out to be rather boring,” Henkel said.

Other researchers on the project included Selina Heppell, a biologist with the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife; and OSU faculty research assistants Kristin Politano and Vincent Politano.

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Sarah Henkel, 541-867-0316, sarah.henkel@oregonstate.edu; Scott Heppell, 541-737-1086, scott.heppell@oregonstate.edu

OSU solar projects provide cost savings, reduce carbon emissions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University this spring has brought the largest of its ground-mounted solar arrays online as part of the Oregon University System’s “Solar by Degrees” program.

The university now has three solar project sites in Corvallis covering some 10 acres collectively that have the capacity to generate more than 2.6 million kilowatt-hours of power per year. The system not only provides cost savings by providing solar energy for less than current utility power rates, it helps Oregon State reduce its carbon footprint in a way that doesn’t cost the university money up front.

The arrays were constructed and are owned and operated by SolarCity, which has worked with OSU and the Oregon Institute of Technology for several years on the Solar by Degrees programs. The company’s collaboration with OSU has not been limited to the Corvallis campus, according to Brandon Trelstad, the university’s sustainability coordinator.

“The way the partnership works is that SolarCity installs the solar arrays at no cost to the university, and OSU simply pays for solar energy that they produce – at a lower rate than they would pay for utility power,” Trelstad said.

This past fall, SolarCity completed a 431-kilowatt installation at OSU’s Hermiston Agricultural Research and Experiment Station in Eastern Oregon, and another 221-kilowatt solar project at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora. Annual electrical output from all five OSU solar sites is approximately equivalent to the annual carbon emissions from 255,025 gallons of gasoline or 477 passenger vehicles, according to US Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator.

“This is another step toward meeting OSU’s aggressive carbon emissions reduction targets,” Trelstad said. “It also saves the university money and provides some unique research and educational opportunities. Advancements like Solar by Degrees don’t come along often and I’m glad that OSU has been able to maximize our use of the groundwork laid by the Oregon University System.”

Two of the sites in Corvallis have operated for more than a year, but the latest site in Corvallis - which is located near 35th Street and Campus Way – just went online. Each installation is “grid-tied,” which means it seamlessly provides power when the sun shines and blends in utility power when it doesn’t.

At the branch Experiment Stations, the arrays not only save money, they provide an example of how solar power can work in a rural and/or agricultural setting.

“The solar array at Hermiston is expected to reduce our electricity costs by about half – a savings of about $30,000 in the first year and could increase in the future depending on electricity costs,” said Philip B. Hamm, director of the Hermiston Agricultural Research and Experiment Station.

“This allows us to provide more financial support toward our mission, which is to provide new research-based information to clients.”

Michael Bondi, director of the North Willamette Research and Extension Center located just south of Wilsonville, said the center at the end of February received its first electrical utility bill since the project was launched.

“For that month, we reduced our cost from the previous year by 50 percent,” Bondi said. “I like how that looks, especially in the middle of winter and a lot of gray days. Based on the design specs for the project, we expect to reduce our electrical usage from the grid by 80 to 85 percent each year.

“I’d say we are well on the way to that goal.”

“This will likely be the largest scale installations we complete here,” said Trelstad. “However, over the next few years, we will look for additional opportunities to install solar panels on roofs since we already have used much of the compatible ground space.”

At two of the three Corvallis installations, the College of Agricultural Sciences is grazing sheep next to the solar arrays, which is how the land previously was used. “This is a great way to optimize land use and not consume productive ground solely with solar installations,” Trelstad noted.  At the Aurora location, a bee and insect pollinator habitat area is being planned. At the Hermiston location, the area had never been used for research given its irregular shape and lack of water availability, but now benefits the campus to provide solar power in an otherwise unusable space.

More information on the arrays, including photos and electricity production information, is available at: http://oregonstate.edu/sustainability/ground-mounted-photovoltaic-arrays

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Brandon Trelstad, 541-737-3307, Brandon.trelstad@oregonstate.edu; Phil Hamm, 541-567-6337; philip.b.hamm@oregonstate.edu; Michael Bondi, 503-705-2434; Michael.bondi@oregonstate.edu

Former director of Hatfield Center Lavern Weber dies Monday

NEWPORT, Ore. – Lavern Weber, director of Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center for a quarter-century and a leader in the development of Newport as a marine science education and research center, died Monday. He was 80.

Weber led the Newport-based OSU center from 1977 until his retirement in 2002. In addition to directing the Hatfield Center, he also served as director of the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resource Studies (CIMRS) and as superintendent of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station (COMES), which was the nation’s first experiment station dedicated to coastal issues.

“Lavern Weber was heavily involved in nearly everything that went on at the Hatfield Marine Science Center and in Newport, contributing significantly to these and to the OSU community,” said Robert Cowen, who now directs the Hatfield Marine Science Center. “He will be missed.”

Weber graduated from Pacific Lutheran University in 1958 and earned masters and doctoral degrees from the University of Washington, where he served on the faculty from 1964-69. He joined the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in 1969 and later had a faculty appointment in pharmacy and worked as assistant dean of the graduate school before moving into his role at the Newport center in 1977.

Under his leadership, the center grew as the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service and Vents Programs, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife became established at the OSU facility. Weber also oversaw the expansion of student and faculty housing, the remodeling of the Visitor’s Center, expanded ship operations, and construction of several buildings, including the Guin Library.

Weber received the OSU Alumni Association’s Distinguished Professor Award in 1992. He was president of the Yaquina Bay Economic Foundation, served for a dozen years on the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve Management Commission, and in 2000-01 was president of the National Association of Marine Laboratories.

“He was a wonderful citizen of Newport, participating in a variety of organizations, including chairing the board of the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts,” said Janet Webster, head librarian for the Hatfield Marine Science Center. He mentored numerous graduate students and faculty in his years as a professor, director and associate dean (in the College of Agricultural Sciences). OSU and Newport will miss him.”

Plans for a memorial service will be announced later.

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Maryann Bozza, 541-867-0234; Robert Cowen, 541-867-0211

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OSU scientists part of national APLU report outlining research challenges

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The national Association of Public and Land-grant Universities released a report today outlining six “grand challenges” facing the United States over the next decade in the areas of sustainability water, climate change, agriculture, energy and education.

The APLU project was co-chaired by W. Daniel Edge, head of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University. The report is available online at: http://bit.ly/1ksH2ud

The “Science, Education, and Outreach Roadmap for Natural Resources” is the first comprehensive, nationwide report on research, education and outreach needs for natural resources the country’s university community has ever attempted, Edge said.

“The report identifies critical natural resources issues that interdisciplinary research programs need to focus on over the next 5-10 years in order to address emerging challenges,” Edge noted. “We hope that policy-makers and federal agencies will adopt recommendations in the roadmap when developing near-term research priorities and strategies.”

The six grand challenges addressed in the report are: 

  • Sustainability: The need to conserve and manage natural landscapes and maintain environmental quality while optimizing renewable resource productivity to meet increasing human demands for natural resources, particularly with respect to increasing water, food, and energy demands.
  • Water: The need to restore, protect and conserve watersheds for biodiversity, water resources, pollution reduction and water security.
  • Climate Change: The need to understand the impacts of climate change on our environment, including such aspects as disease transmission, air quality, water supply, ecosystems, fire, species survival, and pest risk. Further, a comprehensive strategy is needed for managing natural resources to adapt to climate change.
  • Agriculture: The need to develop a sustainable, profitable, and environmentally responsible agriculture industry.
  • Energy: The need to identify new and alternative renewable energy sources and improve the efficiency of existing renewable resource-based energy to meet increasing energy demands while reducing the ecological footprint of energy production and consumption.
  • Education: The need to maintain and strengthen natural resources education at our schools at all levels in order to have the informed citizenry, civic leaders, and practicing professionals needed to sustain the natural resources of the United States.

 

Three other OSU researchers were co-authors on the report, including Hal Salwasser, a professor and former dean of the College of Forestry; JunJie Wu, the Emery N. Castle Endowed Chair in Resource and Rural Economics; and George Boehlert, former director of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center.

Wu played a key role in the climate change chapter in identifying the need to better understand the tradeoffs between investing now in climate change adaptation measures versus the long-term risk of not adopting new policies.

Edge and Boehlert contributed to the energy chapter, which focuses primarily on renewable energy.

“The natural resources issues with traditional sources of energy already are well-understood,” Boehlert said, “with the possible exception of fracking. As the country moves more into renewable energy areas, there are many more uncertainties with respect to natural resources that need to be understood and addressed. There are no energy sources that do not have some environmental issues.”

Salwasser was an author on the sustainability chapter that identifies many issues associated with natural resource use, including rangelands, forestry, fisheries and wildlife and biodiversity. The authors contend the challenge is to use these resources in a sustainable manner meeting both human and ecosystem needs.

The project was sponsored by a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to Oregon State University, which partnered with APLU and authors from numerous institutions.

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Dan Edge, 541-737-2810; Daniel.edge@oregonstate.edu

Scientists use DNA to identify species killed during early whaling days

NEWPORT, Ore. – For more than a hundred years, piles of whale bones have littered the beaches of South Georgia Island in the South Atlantic Ocean – remnants of a vast and deadly whaling industry in the early 20th century that reduced many populations of Southern Hemisphere whales to near-extinction.

This week, scientists announced they have used DNA from the bones to identify the species of whales killed at South Georgia, and to link the collection to a likely time period in the catch records. Their findings are being published in the journal Marine Mammal Science.

The study represents the most comprehensive investigation of historic genetic diversity in whales from around the Antarctic region prior to commercial whaling. The researchers attempted to extract DNA from 281 whale bones and were successful in 82 percent of the cases.

Of the 231 samples they identified, the majority (158) were humpback whales. They also documented 51 fin whales, 18 blue whales, two sei whales, and one southern right whale. One of the bones turned out to be from an elephant seal.

“From a preliminary look at the DNA sequences, it appears that there was a high level of genetic diversity in these whales, which is what we’d expect from pre-exploitation samples,” said Angela Sremba, a doctoral student in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University and lead author on the study.

“The DNA from the bones has been surprisingly well-preserved, but it is important to capture this information now because the bones are susceptible to further degradation and contamination with age.”

The first commercial whaling station was established on South Georgia in 1904 and more than 175,000 whales were killed during the ensuing 60 years. During the first 10 years of whaling on the island, floating factories – large converted ships anchored in the harbors – were used to process the whales and workers discarded the carcasses into harbors. Many of the bones drifted ashore and remain there today.

Beginning in 1913, the processing of whales caught from the surrounding area shifted primarily to land and became so efficient that even the bones were destroyed. Sremba believes most of the whale bones in the study are from the early period of whaling on the island, from 1904-13.

“The species composition of the bone collection is quite similar to catch records during that time,” she said.

Scott Baker, associate director of Oregon State’s Marine Mammal Institute and co-author on the paper, said whale populations still have not recovered in the Southern Ocean despite an abundance of food.

“The waters around South Georgia Island were productive feeding grounds for great whales before whaling,” Baker said, “yet they have not returned here in any numbers despite nearly 50 years of protection. That suggests the possibility that the local population was extirpated, resulting in the loss of some cultural knowledge about the habitat.”

Sremba, who is based at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport with Baker, said knowledge of the whales’ genetic diversity captured from these bones is invaluable.

“This unique resource will allow us to compare historical genetic diversity to contemporary populations to assess the potential impact of the 20th-century commercial whaling industry,” she said.

Sremba’s study was supported by a Mamie Markham Research Award through the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

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Angela Sremba, 541-867-0384; Scott Baker, 541-272-0560

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Antarctic blue whale ((Photo courtesy of Paul Ensor, with assistance from Canon NZ Community Sponsorship Programme))

Rubber wristbands show pollution in air, water and food

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University scientists have created a fashion accessory that doubles as a pollution detector.

Similar in style to the popular wristbands supporting various charitable causes, OSU's new silicone bracelets have a porous surface that mimics a cell, absorbing chemicals that people are exposed to through their environment.

"The wristbands show us the broad range of chemicals we encounter but often don’t know about and may be harming us," said Kim Anderson, a professor in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. “Eventually, these bracelets may help us link possible health effects to chemicals in our environment.”

In an OSU experiment, 30 volunteers wore the bracelets for a month. The bracelets soaked up nearly 50 chemical compounds, including traces of fragrances and other personal care products. They also detected flame-retardants, pesticides, caffeine, nicotine, and chemicals from pet flea medicines.

Roofers also wore the wristbands, showing exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, 12 of which are on the Environmental Protection Agency's priority list. The bracelets, however, cannot detect some metals, like lead and chromium, or gases like carbon monoxide.

To extract the pollutants, the users send the bracelets to OSU where they are soaked and shaken in a mix of solvents, which pull chemical compounds into a liquid that can be tested in a lab. Researchers can screen for 1,200 chemicals that may accumulate in the wristbands.

To create the wristbands, OSU scientists modified widely available silicone bracelets – similar to the yellow "Livestrong" bands – by washing them in chemical solvents. The university can make 400 wristbands a week.

The bracelets are not yet available to the public. Anderson's lab is recruiting participants for upcoming studies with the bracelets. Citizen scientists – or nonprofessional scientists – can also propose projects to Anderson's lab at http://citizen.science.oregonstate.edu. The bracelets and testing come with a customized fee. Eventually, OSU researchers may license the bracelets to a company or start their own.

OSU's research was published in the article “Silicone Wristbands as Personal Passive Samplers” in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The full study, which is available at http://bit.ly/OSU_WristbandStudy, was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the OSU Food Safety and Environmental Stewardship Program, and the National Institutes of Health.

OSU is also using the bracelets in an ongoing study in New York City to measure the chemical exposure of pregnant women in their last trimester and how that affects their children after birth. The volunteers are wearing the bracelets as well as a traditional air sampling unit, which consists of a 5-pound backpack with a fan and battery.

Test participants prefer the lightweight wristbands, Anderson said, because they don't require energy or maintenance and are easy to wear.

"People are more likely to wear bracelets that are not bulky, expensive or require a lot of preparation,” she said. “The wristbands are small and easy to wear.”

OSU scientists are also using the technology to study pesticide risks in West Africa by placing samplers in irrigation canals and adjacent rivers and recently published a study in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, available at http://bit.ly/OSU_WAStudy.

Later this year, OSU will hand out the bracelets to West African farmers so they can learn how to reduce their exposure to agricultural chemicals.

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Kim Anderson, 541-737-8501

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OSU scientist Kim Anderson

OSU scientist Kim Anderson discovered common silicone wristbands absorb chemicals from air, water and food. (Photo by Stephen Ward.)

Pollution-measuring wristbands

In an OSU experiment, rubber wristbands absorbed almost 50 chemical compounds, including pesticides and caffeine. (Photo by Stephen Ward.)

Researchers find evidence of bighorn sheep on island – now what?

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A research team has found evidence that bighorn sheep inhabited Tiburón Island in the Gulf of California some 1,500 years ago – a surprising find that calls into question just how to manage the population of bighorns that were introduced to the island in 1975.

The experimental introduction almost 40 years ago of what was thought to be a non-native species was intended to create a large breeding population of bighorn sheep at a site safe from predators that could be used to restock bighorn populations on the mainland. The discovery that bighorn sheep previously had lived on the island raises philosophical questions, the researchers say.

They report on the dilemma, which they call “unintentional rewilding,” this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

“This is a microcosm for situations in which animals regarded as non-natives are introduced into an area where they actually lived in the past,” said Clinton Epps, a wildlife ecologist at Oregon State University and co-author on the PLOS ONE article. “There are some interesting implications.

“If, for example, one goal was to restore native habitat and it looked like the introduced animals were having an impact on the flora, the solution might be to remove the animals,” Epps pointed out. “But now you’d have to say, ‘not so fast.’ What is the right thing to do? Does it matter if the animals lived there 10, a hundred, or a thousand years ago?”

The development first began to unfold with the incidental discovery by lead author Ben Wilder of the University of California, Riverside, of a dung mat on the floor of a small cave in the Sierra Kumkaak, a rugged mountain range on the east side of Tiburón Island. Samples of the sheep pellets were sent for DNA sequencing to Oregon State.

“The first thing we had to do was eliminate the possibility that the material had come from deer, mountain goats, domestic sheep or cows, or some other animals,” said Rachel Crowhurst, a faculty research assistant in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “It closely matched bighorn sheep. Then we used a second genetic marker to compare it to the modern population of bighorns on the island – and it was completely different.”

The OSU researchers determined that the sequences from the bighorn sheep that lived on the island some 1,500 years ago exactly matched sequences from desert bighorn sheep living today in Arizona.

In 1975, 16 female and four male bighorn sheep were introduced to Tiburón Island, which is a large, mostly uninhabited island just off the coast of Sonora Mexico. On the mainland, historical land use had decimated populations of wild bighorn sheep. By the mid-1990s, the Tiburon herd had grown to some 500 animals and was considered one of the most successful large mammal introductions in the world.

As it turns out, this supposed introduction was actually an “unintentional rewilding” – a phrase coined by the authors and a concept that has implications for future research, according to Julio Betancourt, a paleo-ecologist with the United State Geological Survey and co-author on the paper.

“Molecular studies will become more than an afterthought in paleo-ecological studies to address previously unanswerable questions about evolutionary responses to climate change,” Betancourt said.

The research by Epps and Crowhurst was supported by Oregon State University.

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

Cows witnessing wolf attacks suffer symptoms similar to PTSD

BURNS, Ore. – Unlike cows that haven't ever had a run-in with wolves, ones that have can experience stress-related illnesses and have a harder time getting pregnant – meaning decreased profits for ranchers, according to a new study by Oregon State University.

"When wolves kill or injure livestock, ranchers can document the financial loss," said Reinaldo Cooke, an animal scientist in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. “But wolf attacks also create bad memories in the herd and cause a stress response known to result in decreased pregnancy rates, lighter calves and a greater likelihood of getting sick. It’s much like post-traumatic stress disorder – PTSD – for cows."

After a reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park in the last two decades, grey wolves have dispersed through the West and have hunted in livestock grazing areas. Since then, OSU researchers have heard anecdotes from ranchers that cows that have come in contact with wolves are more aggressive, sickly and eat less.

To measure the stress of a wolf attack on cows – and estimate its lingering effects – researchers simulated a wolf encounter with 100 cows. Half of them had never seen a wolf, and the other half had been part of a herd that was previously attacked on the range.

Cows were gathered in a pen scented with wolf urine while pre-recorded wolf howls played over a stereo. Three trained dogs – German Shepherds closely resembling wolves – walked outside the pen.

Researchers found that cortisol, a stress hormone, increased by 30 percent in cows that had previously been exposed to wolves. They bunched up in a corner, formed a protective circle and acted agitated. Their body temperatures also increased rapidly, another indicator of stress. Yet the cows previously unfamiliar with wolves were curious about the dogs and did not show signs of stress.

Multiple studies from Cooke and other researchers have established a link between cow stress and poor performance traits that can cost ranchers.

A 2010 OSU economic analysis estimated that wolves in northeastern Oregon could cost ranchers up to $261 per head of cattle, including $55 for weight loss and $67 for lower pregnancy rates, according to John Williams, an OSU extension agent in Wallowa County who conducted that study. It can be read online at: http://bit.ly/OSU_WolfCowReport.

"In a herd, if you are not raising calves, your cows are not making you money," said David Bohnert, an expert in ruminant nutrition at OSU's Eastern Oregon Agriculture Research Center in Burns. “With stress likely decreasing the proportion of those getting pregnant and causing lighter calves from those that do, a wolf attack can have negative financial ripple effects for some time.”

Both researchers call for further research into ways of successfully managing both wolves and livestock so they can co-exist.

The wolf-cow simulated encounter study, which was funded by the Oregon Beef Council, was published in the Journal of Animal Science and co-authored by Cooke and Bohnert. The text is available at http://bit.ly/OSU_CowWolfStudy.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Reinaldo Cooke, 541-573-4083;

David Bohnert, 541-573-8910

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Wolf/ cow study

Oregon State University researchers simulated a wolf encounter with German Shepherds to measure stress levels in beef cows. (Photo by Reinaldo Cooke.)

OSU scientist David Bohnert

David Bohnert works with beef cattle at Oregon State University's Eastern Oregon Agriculture Research Center in Burns, Ore. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

Study confirms link between salmon migration and magnetic field

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A team of scientists last year presented evidence of a correlation between the migration patterns of ocean salmon and the Earth’s magnetic field, suggesting it may help explain how the fish can navigate across thousands of miles of water to find their river of origin.

This week, scientists confirmed the connection between salmon and the magnetic field following a series of experiments at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center in the Alsea River basin. Researchers exposed hundreds of juvenile Chinook salmon to different magnetic fields that exist at the latitudinal extremes of their oceanic range. Fish responded to these “simulated magnetic displacements” by swimming in the direction that would bring that toward the center of their marine feeding grounds.

The study, which was funded by Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, will be published this month in the forthcoming issue of Current Biology.

“What is particularly exciting about these experiments is that the fish we tested had never left the hatchery and thus we know that their responses were not learned or based on experience, but rather they were inherited,” said Nathan Putman, a postdoctoral researcher in Oregon State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and lead author on the study.

“These fish are programmed to know what to do before they ever reach the ocean,” he added.

To test the hypothesis, the researchers constructed a large platform with copper wires running horizontally and vertically around the perimeter. By running electrical current through the wires, the scientists could create a magnetic field and control both the intensity and inclination angle of the field. They then placed 2-inch juvenile salmon called “parr” in 5-gallon buckets and, after an acclimation period, monitored and photographed the direction in which they were swimming.

Fish presented with a magnetic field characteristic of the northern limits of the oceanic range of Chinook salmon were more likely to swim in a southerly direction, while fish encountering a far southern field tended to swim north. In essence, fish possess a “map sense” determining where they are and which way to swim based on the magnetic fields they encounter.

“The evidence is irrefutable,” said co-author David Noakes of OSU, senior scientist at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center and the 2012 recipient of the American Fisheries Society’s Award of Excellence. “I tell people: The fish can detect and respond to the Earth’s magnetic field. There can be no doubt of that.”

Not all of the more than 1,000 fish swam in the same direction, Putman said. But there was a clear preference by the fish for swimming in the direction away from the magnetic field that was “wrong” for them. Fish that remained in the magnetic field of the testing site – near Alsea, Ore. – were randomly oriented, indicating that orientation of fish subjected to magnetic displacements could only be attributable to change in the magnetic field.

“What is really surprising is that these fish were only exposed to the magnetic field we created for about eight minutes,” Putman pointed out. “And the field was not even strong enough to deflect a compass needle.”

Putman said that salmon must be particularly sensitive because the Earth’s magnetic field is relatively weak. Because of that, it may not take much to interfere with their navigational abilities. Many structures contain electrical wires or reinforcing iron that could potentially affect the orientation of fish early in their life cycle, the researchers say.

“Fish are raised in hatcheries where there are electrical and magnetic influences,” Noakes said, “and some will encounter electrical fields while passing through power dams. When they reach the ocean, they may swim by structures or cables that could interfere with navigation. Do these have an impact? We don’t yet know.”

Putman said natural disruptions could include chunks of iron in the Earth’s crust, though “salmon have been dealing with that for thousands of years.”

“Juvenile salmon face their highest mortality during the period when the first enter the ocean,” Putman said, “because they have to adapt to a saltwater environment, find food, avoid predation, and begin their journey. Anything that makes them navigate less efficiently is a concern because if they take a wrong turn and end up in a barren part of the ocean, they are going to starve.”

The magnetic field is likely not the only tool salmon use to navigate, however, Putman noted.

“They likely have a whole suite of navigational aids that help them get where they are going, perhaps including orientation to the sun, sense of smell and others,” Putman said.

The Oregon Hatchery Research Center is funded by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and jointly run by ODFW and Oregon State University.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Nathan Putman, 205-218-5276; Nathan.putman@oregonstate.edu

David Noakes, 541-737-1953; david.noakes@oregonstate.edu

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Putman_Graphical_Abstract

Orientation of

salmon to field