college of agricultural sciences

Tiny wasp could be stink bug's foe

CORVALLIS Ore. – As the brown marmorated stink bug spreads across the state, Oregon State University is studying how to use bug-on-bug warfare to stop this crop-damaging pest.

The insect arrived in the eastern United States in the late 1990s and has since spread to more than 30 states. The non-native bug was found in Portland in 2004 and has since shown up in 13 Oregon counties, including all of the Willamette Valley.

But populations in Oregon are still relatively low in most areas, according to OSU estimates. Although the pest has caused major commercial crop damage in many eastern states, so far it has had minimal impact on Northwest crops.

To keep it that way, OSU researchers are looking to a non-pesticide solution: a tiny wasp imported from China. Smaller than a pinhead, the wasp, known as Trissolcus halyomorphae, lays its eggs in the brown marmorated stink bug's eggs. A video OSU made showing this process can be viewed at bit.ly/YbMuLh.

The potential release of the wasp in the field could still be years away as researchers need to first test its behavior in quarantine to determine if it discriminates between the brown marmorated stink bug's eggs and those of other species. Canada and Mexico must also agree to the wasp's introduction.  

"The problem with the introduction of biological control organisms is that bugs don't recognize borders like we do - we don’t want to release something that causes more harm than good," said entomologist Peter Shearer, who's leading OSU's stink bug research. "We want to do this right because rarely do we have an ample opportunity to deal with a problem that has the potential to be this bad."

Oregon farmers fear the insect could severely affect crops if its numbers continue to swell. It has already been spotted near some large agricultural operations in Oregon. The bug isn't a picky eater, having shown a taste for more than 100 types of crops, including corn, wine grapes, hazelnuts, pears, apples and sweet cherries.

It leaves behind discolored patches on the food, which is still safe to eat, but the cosmetic blemishes make the products largely worthless in the marketplace.

"It's more of a list of what it doesn't eat than what it does feed on," said Vaughn Walton, an entomologist at OSU. "Identifying where the bug is found is an ongoing effort. Unfortunately, it has been detected in many of Oregon’s major agricultural areas and the populations are increasing. It looks like it could be a problem soon in some areas based on populations we found in 2012."

OSU researchers are using this field data to plot an even more aggressive tracking strategy for 2013. In the meantime, Oregonians can assist the effort by reporting sightings to bmsb@hort.oregonstate.edu.

"A lot of the finds we’ve made the past few seasons are because of the public chipping in,” said Nik Wiman, a postdoctoral scientist at OSU's research center in Hermiston, who is studying the insect. “Without it, we would not have as good a picture of how the bug has distributed through the state.”

In the winter, the brown marmorated stink bug seeks shelter indoors, often in attics, garages and dark, moist places. It can be confused with other insects, so the OSU Extension Service has published a two-page guide for the public on how to distinguish it from look-alikes at bit.ly/102dyIw. The document is also in Spanish at bit.ly/S9oHbB.  More information on the bug is at bit.ly/Va0m7N.

OSU is one of 11 institutions researching the brown marmorated stink bug in an effort funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Oregon Hazelnut Commission and the Oregon Wine Board. OSU graduate student Chris Hedstrom has also contributed to the project.

Media Contact: 

Silvia Rondon, 541-567-8321 

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Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB)

Adult brown marmorated stink bugs seek shelter indoors during cold weather and are often found in attics and garages. (Photo by Chris Hedstrom.)

Imported wasp Trissolcus halyomorphae

A tiny wasp known as Trissolcus halyomorphae attacks the eggs of a brown marmorated stink bug. (Photo by Chris Hedstrom.)

OSU's nutrition campaign makes kids 'Food Heroes'

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Starting this month, grade-school students across Oregon will learn about healthy eating, thanks to a program from Oregon State University's Extension Service.

It's part of OSU Extension's Food Hero campaign, which encourages Oregonians to eat more fruits and vegetables using inexpensive, easy-to-make recipes from its website at www.foodhero.org. The site also offers tips on topics including food safety, meal planning and eating on a budget.

For the next five months, nutrition educators with Extension will hold events at 58 elementary schools in 27 of the state's 36 counties as part of the initiative. Wearing Food Hero aprons and superhero capes, they'll demonstrate how to make dishes from the website and will serve samples in cafeterias, hallways and classrooms.

The educators also will give students cookbooks, calendars and Food Hero hand stamps saying "Ask Me What I Tried" so their parents can learn about the website and get advice for nutritious eating, too.

"Food Hero is a 24/7 resource," said Lauren Tobey, the coordinator for the website and the OSU Extension Service's nutrition education program. “It's a great option for busy parents to find healthy recipes that are easy and taste good, as well as tips on healthy eating.”

Stephanie Russell, an Extension nutrition educator who works with schools in Jefferson and Crook counties, said Extension will offer table displays and tasting samples of Food Hero recipes at "family nights" at up to seven elementary schools in Prineville and Madras.

"Kids love the Food Hero recipes,” Russell said. “We’ve been using many of them in hands-on nutrition cooking classes in local middle schools and high schools. One favorite is the Popeye smoothie. Students are always saying they can’t believe how good a smoothie can be that has spinach in it. One student told me she liked it so much she shared it with her grandmother in Mexico.

“The students often report they've taken the recipes home and asked Mom to make them, or they've made them on their own," Russell added.

Oregonians will find Food Hero advertising over the next several months on grocery store shopping carts, billboards and radio stations. Twenty-seven Grocery Outlet locations will display ads and recipe cards on shelves and check-out counters, and announce healthy eating tips on their public address systems. Depending on the county, Extension nutrition educators may also offer cooking demonstrations to teach Food Hero recipes at grocery stores, parent nights at schools and at Boys and Girls Clubs.

Within the last year, Extension has added about 50 new recipes to the Food Hero website. It has also made the website easier to use, and it's now accessible by mobile devices. Additionally, it now offers its electronic publication in Vietnamese. Known as Food Hero Monthly, it's emailed to thousands of subscribers and will continue to be offered in English and Spanish as well. People can sign up for it at www.foodhero.org/monthly-magazine.

Parents can also follow Food Hero on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/VsARez, Twitter at https://twitter.com/BeAFoodHero and Pinterest at http://pinterest.com/foodhero.

Food Hero was developed by the OSU Extension Service and is funded by Extension, the Oregon Department of Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Media Contact: 

Lauren Tobey, 541-737-1017

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The Oregon State University Extension Service's Food Hero website includes this recipe for a barley summer salad at http://bit.ly/VOJx0M. (Photo by Laura LaMotte.)

New and seasoned farmers to swap stories at OSU conference

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Experienced and newer farmers will share their wisdom at the Oregon Small Farms Conference at Oregon State University on March 2.

Based on the theme "Greenhorns and Grayhorns," the 13th annual conference will take place from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at The LaSells Stewart Center on campus.

A similar conference last year attracted a record 800 farmers and ranchers and this year’s event is on track to match that number, said Garry Stephenson, the coordinator for the OSU Extension Service's small farms program.

The keynote session at 9:30 a.m. will spotlight four new farmers whose essays were featured in the book, "Greenhorns: 50 Dispatches from the New Farmer Movement." Speakers are Sarahlee Lawrence of Rainshadow Organics in Terrebonne; Josh Volk of Slow Hand Farm in Portland; Cory Carmen of Carman Ranch in Wallowa; and Teresa Retzlaff of 46 North Farm in Olney.

Organic seed grower and "grayhorn" Frank Morton, of Wild Garden Seed in Philomath, will moderate the panel.

"The OSU Extension Service's small farms program is engaging the young farmer movement," Stephenson said. "There's a resurgence of young farmers in the United States now. As we brainstormed sessions and possible keynotes, we came up with the idea to give experienced and new farmers a place to interact."

Young and experienced farmers will have several opportunities to mingle throughout the conference.

Participants can choose from 21 concurrent sessions in three time slots. Topics will include how to make artisan cheese, sell farm products online, start a farmer network, and find, lease and buy agricultural land. Farmers and OSU Extension faculty will lead most sessions.

The conference costs $50 per person or $90 for two people from the same farm or organization through Feb. 15. After that, the cost increases to $60 per person or $110 for two. The fee includes refreshments and a lunch featuring products from local farms and ranches.

Register online at http://smallfarms.oregonstate.edu/sfc.

The day before the conference, participants can also attend the Oregon Agritourism Summit Part 2, co-sponsored by the OSU Extension Service and held on campus. Learn more at http://bit.ly/WU5jMi.

Media Contact: 

Garry Stephenson, 541-737-5833

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Frank Morton covers lettuce seed plants at Gathering Together Farm in Philomath with a special fabric to protect them from rain. (Photo by Tiffany Woods.)


Lisbeth Goddik, the dairy processing specialist with Oregon State University's Extension Service, works with students in her cheese making class. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

Residents near Chinese e-waste site face greater cancer risk

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Residents living near an e-waste recycling site in China face elevated risks of lung cancer, according to a recent study co-authored by Oregon State University researchers.

Electronic trash, such as cell phones, computers and TVs, is often collected in dumps in developing countries and crudely incinerated to recover precious metals, including silver, gold, palladium and copper. The process is often primitive, releasing fumes with a range of toxic substances, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, a group of more than 100 chemicals.

PAHs, many of which are recognized as carcinogenic and linked to lung cancer when inhaled, were the focus of the study. Over the course of a year, researchers collected air samples from two rooftops in two areas in China. One was in a rural village in the southern province of Guangdong less than a mile from an active e-waste burning site and not surrounded by any industry. The other was Guangzhou, a city heavily polluted by industry, vehicles and power plants but not e-waste.

The scientists concluded that those living in the e-waste village are 1.6 times more likely to develop cancer from inhalation than their urban-dwelling peers.

“In the village, people were recycling waste in their yards and homes, using utensils and pots to melt down circuit boards and reclaim metals,” said Staci Simonich, a co-author of the study and a professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at OSU. "There was likely exposure through breathing, skin and food – including an intimate connection between e-waste and the growing of vegetables, raising of chickens and catching of fish."

The researchers estimated that of each million people in the e-waste area, 15 to 1,200 would develop lung cancer on account of PAHs over their lifetimes, while the likelihood in the city is slightly lower at 9 to 737 per million. These approximations do not include lung cancer caused by smoking.

The study also found that the level of airborne carcinogenic PAHs exceeded China’s air quality standards 98 percent of the time in the e-waste area and 93 percent of the time in the city.

The study was published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. The OSU Superfund Research Program provided assistance for the study. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) provided funding for the study.

Eight researchers collaborated on the project, including OSU graduate student Leah Gonzales and scientists from China.

Media Contact: 

Staci Simonich, 541-737-9194

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Staci Simonich

Chemist Staci Simonich examines a vial containing air pollutants at her lab at Oregon State University. She co-authored a study that found that residents in an rural Chinese village near an electronic waste dump are 1.6 times more likely to develop lung cancer than their peers in the heavily polluted Chinese city of Guangzhou. (Photo by Tiffany Woods.)

Georgia turf expert heads to OSU for greener grass

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Alec Kowalewski, Oregon State University's new turf specialist, jokes that two requirements for the job were to have a Polish-sounding last name and to be a graduate of Michigan State University.

That's because he replaces fellow MSU alumnus Rob Golembiewski, who left in March to work for Bayer Environmental Science after coming to OSU in 2008.

Kowalewski, formerly an assistant professor of turf management at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Georgia, began work at OSU on Dec. 31.

He'll divide his time between teaching, researching and working as a specialist with OSU's Extension Service to help the turf grass industry. As the N.B. and Jacqueline Giustina Professor in Turf Management, he is funded in part by an endowment created by the family of OSU alumnus Nat Giustina.

He'll carry out his research on the plots and putting greens at OSU's Lewis-Brown Farm and the Trysting Tree Golf Club near campus. He'll be aided by OSU's Brian McDonald, a research assistant who maintained the turf program after Golembiewski's departure. With golf courses, schools and city park departments tightening their belts, Kowalewski plans to conduct experiments that aim to help them maintain acceptable turf conditions on a budget.

At the same time, he intends for his research to also help them reduce their impact on the environment. For example, he's thinking of testing different varieties of grass that require less irrigation and fertilizer to see which performs the best. Or he might take a look at how naturally derived products like corn gluten meal or soybean meal work as alternatives to pesticides, he said.

"Turf management is really entering what I'd call an environmentally conscious era," he said. "There are a lot of concerns about available resources and the effect management is having on the environment."

Kowalewski (pronounced cove-a-less-key) will also oversee graduate students' research, including a project to control Microdochium patch without chemicals. Caused by a fungus, the disease is associated with rainy, cool conditions and forms spots of discolored, damaged grass.

"Microdochium is a very big problem throughout the Pacific Northwest about eight months out of the year," he said. "Golf course superintendents often lose their jobs over problems like this. It's like being a doctor that can't take care of a patient properly."

The disease is costly to golf courses because they have to buy fungicides and replant the grass. But pesticide regulations are expected to become increasingly restrictive, Kowalewski said, so other options are necessary. As a result, graduate student Clint Mattox will explore a variety of treatment methods, which Kowalewski said could include acidifying the soil, drying the turf with a blower, flattening it with a roller, or applying bicarbonates, sodium borate or mineral oil.

Over the next few months, Kowalewski plans to meet with superintendents, athletic turf managers, landscapers and Extension's Master Gardeners to identify other turf problems in the Pacific Northwest they'd like OSU to address.

Kowalewski brings to the position experience as a professor and researcher. In Georgia, he taught during the school year and conducted field trials in the summer. He tested new cultivars of bermudagrass to see how they grew with limited water, infrequent mowing and minimal fertilizer. He also studied how grasses stood up to heavy foot traffic on athletic fields.

In 2007 and 2008, his job took him to Beijing, China, where he literally watched the grass grow for almost five months. He was serving as an adviser to the company that built the portable athletic field used in the Bird's Nest stadium for the track and field events and the men's soccer final during the Olympics. In a parking lot a few miles from the stadium, a crew grew grass on 4-foot by 4-foot trays filled with 8 inches of soil. Every morning at 6 a.m., he inspected the grass for disease and made sure it had the right amounts of fertilizer and water. Then in August after the opening ceremony, his work paid off when the panels were trucked to the stadium and assembled like a jigsaw puzzle.

As for his own grassy yard at his former home in Georgia, Kowalewski wasn't as attentive.

"It's the worst one on the block. I mowed it probably three to four times a year," he said, assuring that it's no reflection on his professional life. "I think of it as trying to leave work at work."

That, and the fact he's also a busy guy. He hasn't even hit the links in about two years, an irony for someone dedicated to helping the golf industry.

"Two years ago I was at 10 courses visiting interns in the Hilton Head area of South Carolina and didn't get a chance to golf because I was so busy," he said. "People ask me what my hobby is. I say, 'I have a 2 ½-year-old daughter. That's my hobby.' It's hard to go golfing when you spend so much time at work and then to convince the wife that you want to go golfing on Saturday. That's usually not an argument you win."

Actually, turf sports aren't Kowalewski's forte. The Michigan native spent his college years locking opponents in half nelsons on a wrestling mat at MSU. Initially pursuing and later earning an undergraduate degree in studio art, it wasn't until he got a summer job at MSU's turfgrass research center that he decided there were greener pastures outside the studio. He went on to earn a doctorate at MSU in crop and soil sciences with an emphasis on turf management.

"Turf management is a great career," he said. "Young people think of college degrees as business and psychology, but you can make a great living taking care of golf courses, athletic fields, city parks or the grounds on a campus. One of my objectives is to get to high school students and tell them this is a great career to go into."

Information on OSU's turf management program is at BeaverTurf.com.

Media Contact: 

Alec Kowalewski, 541-737-5449

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Alec Kowalewski, Oregon State University's new turf specialist, reaches for a pot of creeping bentgrass at a greenhouse on campus. (Photo by Tiffany Woods.)

Eight 4-H clubs qualify for state robotics championship

CORVALLIS, Ore. – When 117 teams gather in Hillsboro for the Jan. 19-20 Intel Oregon FIRST® LEGO® League state robotics championship, eight of them will have ties to the Oregon State University Extension Service's 4-H program.

They'll be competing at the Intel Oregon FIRST LEGO League Championships at Liberty High School. The tournament is free and open to the public.

In December, more than 400 teams and about 3,000 students participated in qualifying rounds in Oregon and southwest Washington. The students, ranging from ages 9-14, had to build a small robot out of LEGO Mindstorm NXT kits and program it to carry out as many missions as possible on a 4-foot by 8-foot playing field. Separate from the robot, students also had to present a concept for a device that solves a problem faced by a senior citizen.

The Bend-area 4-H team, Girls on Fire!, developed a prototype for a device called a "Med Minder," an electronic wall calendar that beeps to remind people to take medication. The team is made up of six girls and formed for the first time this year. One of its members, Katie Slough, 12, said only two people on her team had experience with LEGO robotics. She was one of them.

"Last year I was on a team that was me and three other fourth-grade guys and it was a lot harder to make decisions," she said. "This year with all girls we could make decisions easier."

Over in Wasco County, a 4-H team there talked with neurologists and developed a concept for headbands and gloves to help alleviate hand tremors. To help with their project, they also interviewed two senior citizens from The Dalles, including a Vietnam veteran who is paraplegic and uses an electric wheelchair.

"A lot of the kids didn't think about senior citizens and the trials they go through," said Holly Morris, a Wasco County 4-H program assistant. "This project opened their eyes to a whole new world they never looked at before. It also gave them the chance to think about what life would be like when they are a senior citizen one day."

Team member Sarah Treichel, 14, said, "I like doing robotics because you can understand how different technology works and apply that to real life."

Her robotics team is part of a 4-H after-school technology program that is held at Dufur School and The Dalles Middle School. About 20 children from The Dalles area meet after school two hours per week to design computer games, build soapbox derby cars and construct submersible robots.

Another state-qualifying team affiliated with 4-H is from McMinnville and is made up of seven home-schooled students. It also has ties to a McMinnville cooperative, Enjoy Learning Together, that is geared toward families who teach children at home.

"Though people say home-schooled kids need more social skills, these kids had better social skills than many of my students," the team's volunteer leader, Ann Clabaugh, said. "They had strong abilities in teamwork, problem-solving and making compromises." 

The LEGO robotics program aims to inspire kids to consider a technical career while teaching them teamwork in a creative, hands-on environment and building up their self-confidence.

4-H is a program of the OSU Extension Service. Students can belong to various 4-H clubs centered on areas of interest that include not just robotics but also photography, website design, livestock and sewing.

The following Oregon teams affiliated with 4-H earned spots at the state tournament:

  • Sue Buel Elementary 4-H of McMinnville
  • Wasco County 4-H of The Dalles
  • 4-H and the ELT Homeschool Co-Op of McMinnville
  • Marion County 4-H of Salem
  • Brickstorms 4-H Tualatin Neighborhood of Tualatin
  • Yellow Rubber Duckie Engineers 4-H of McMinnville
  • Blue Dudes Yamhill County 4-H of McMinnville
  • Girls on Fire! 4-H of Bend

For information about the Intel Oregon FIRST LEGO League Championships, go to http://www.ortop.org/fll

For information on participating in 4-H, contact the OSU Extension Service office in your county. Links to the offices are at http://extension.oregonstate.edu/find-us

Media Contact: 

Molly Slough, 541-419-6288

OSU aims to increase blueberry yields with bumblebees

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University aims to see if creating more foraging habitat for bumblebees will increase the pollination and yield of blueberries bushes, which mostly depend on bees to turn their blossoms into berries.

OSU researchers will determine if bordering fields with vegetation that blooms from early spring to late fall will attract bumblebees and other native bees searching for pollen for food. The scientists hope that while the bees are at it, they'll pollinate the nearby blueberry flowers, which only blossom for a short time in the spring.

"It's very important to give native pollinators a reason to hang around blueberries," said Sujaya Rao, an OSU entomologist working on the project. "Just one fruit crop with three or four weeks of bloom is not enough to sustain a bumblebee colony. If more native pollinators, like bumblebees, can be attracted, the pocketbooks of blueberry growers would benefit."

Rao is seeking blueberry growers in the Willamette Valley who are willing to participate in the study. She'll ask them to plant native or exotic flora that is attractive to bees, such as rosemary, germander, California lilac, sage and red clover. The plants would serve as food – not housing – for the bees, which live in holes in trees or in abandoned rodent borrows in the ground.

Researchers will then estimate the numbers of native bees in fields with and without the hedgerows and they'll measure the blueberry yield.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the research is part by a five-year project led by Michigan State University addressing challenges faced by specialty crop industries, including vegetable, berry, fruit tree, and nut growers across the country.

Because bees are essential to the pollination of blueberries, Oregon growers typically place rented honeybee hives near their fields, but that can cost more than $100 per acre. And honeybees have their limitations as pollinators of blueberries. Unlike bumblebees, they can't "buzz pollinate," which occurs when the bees' vibration releases pollen from deep inside the anthers of certain flowers. Blueberry bushes produce larger, more plentiful fruit when buzz-pollinated.

Also, unlike bumblebees, honeybees aren't active in cold, wet weather, which is abundant in the Willamette Valley spring.

Blueberries were Oregon's 19th most important agricultural commodity in 2011 in terms of gross sales, according to a report by the OSU Extension Service. Farmers sold $74 million of the fruit, up from $57 million in 2010, the report said. Growers harvested more than 60 million pounds on 8,137 acres in 2011.

In 2012, Oregon became the only U.S. state allowed to export blueberries to South Korea. The South Asian country imported nearly 500,000 pounds from Oregon in the first year, according to the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

Media Contact: 

Sujaya Rao, 541-737-9038

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Sujaya Rao, OSU entomologist

Sujaya Rao, an entomologist at Oregon State University, conducts a field test with bees. She's seeking blueberry growers willing to plant vegetation along their fields to attract bumblebees and other native bees as pollinators. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)


Bumblebees are crucial pollinators for crops that include clover and blueberries. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum.)

Study finds prey density more important to predators than biomass

Note: The journal article this release is based on can be found at: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0053348

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Marine resource managers often gauge the health of species based on overall biomass, but a new study of predator-prey relationships in the Bering Sea found that it isn’t the total number of individuals that predators care about – it’s how densely they are aggregated.

It’s more than searching for an easy meal, the researchers say. Predators need to balance how much energy they expend in searching for food with the caloric and nutrient value of that which they consume. When prey doesn’t aggregate, however, the search for food becomes much more difficult – affecting the health of the predators’ offspring and the vitality of their overall population.

Results of the study were published this week in the journal PLOS ONE. The study was part of the Bering Sea Integrated Ecosystem Research Project, which was funded by the North Pacific Research Board and the National Science Foundation.

“We had to think very differently about these interactions, trying to see the world from the predators’ point of view,” said Kelly Benoit-Bird, an Oregon State University marine ecologist and lead author on the study. “When we first tried to identify good foraging locations for predator species we looked at areas of high prey numbers because it makes sense that they’d be where the food is. But the results didn’t match what we might have expected.

“Predator populations that should have been doing well, based on prey numbers or biomass, were in fact not doing well,” added Benoit-Bird, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “What we discovered is that smaller aggregations of prey are more attractive to predators if they are sufficiently dense.”

The findings are particularly important, scientists say, because almost all fisheries management is based on biomass – tons of fish – and not how those fish may be distributed in the sea.

In their study, the researchers looked at the feeding behaviors of three co-occurring species in the Bering Sea, all of which consume juvenile pollock or krill – black-legged kittiwakes, thick-billed murres and northern fur seals. When they attempted to find a spatial relationship between these predators and the pollock using areal biomass and numerical abundance, they found little correlation.

However, when they began finding small patches of prey at certain depths and of sufficient density, the predators were there. And though the scientists know why – feeding efficiency – they aren’t sure how.

“To be honest, we aren’t really sure how these predators – which may travel many miles – locate the densest aggregations at depths well below the surface – and often at night,” said Scott Heppell, a fisheries ecologist at Oregon State University and co-author on the PLOS ONE paper. “You wouldn’t think murres and fur seals would have that much in common, but in this case they do.”

“In a way, they’re looking for the same thing that commercial fishing fleets look for – high-quality prey in aggregations dense enough to be economical,” added Heppell, an assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU.

Benoit-Bird likened the predator-prey link to locating a box of popcorn in a darkened movie theater. You may have to search for it, she noted, but if you find the popcorn box, the payoff will be much more significant than what you might get by stumbling upon individual kernels in the dark that are spread throughout the theater – even though the number of kernels is the same.

That payoff is particularly meaningful for nurturing young, the researchers point out. During their two-year study, the research group tagged and observed female fur seals from St. Paul Island and Bogoslof Island as they swam hundreds of kilometers over a period of 1-2 weeks to gorge on nutrient-rich pollock then return to their homes to nurse pups.

They also tagged and observed adult murres and kittiwakes at St. Paul, St. George and Bogoslof Islands. The birds would capture local prey to feed their chicks during the day, but make numerous long flights at night to gorge on energy-rich, deep-water prey before returning to their nests to feed their chicks.

“It is a trade-off strategy,” said Benoit-Bird, a 2010 recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. “They feed themselves in one place and nourish their offspring from another.”

This concept of prey “patchiness” can change rapidly, the researchers noted. Pollock aggregated only when the number of individuals in an area reached a certain threshold; below that threshold, they swam as individuals.

“If the population is sufficiently diffuse, the pollock don’t aggregate and that could spell trouble for species that prey upon them,” Heppell said. “A 10 percent shift in the number of fish could change how the entire stock behaves – and have a major impact on the birds, seals and other predators.”

Other authors on the PLOS ONE paper include Brian Battaile, Chad Nordstrom and Andrew Trites of the University of British Columbia; Brian Hoover and Nathan Jones, University of California’s Moss Landing Marine Laboratories; David Irons and Kathy Kuletz of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Anchorage; and Rosana Paredes, Robert Suryan and Chad Waluk of Oregon State University.

Media Contact: 

Kelly Benoit-Bird, 541-737-2063

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fur seal
Northern fur seal juv pollock
Juvenile pollock murre
Thick-billed murre

Cows that eat juniper risk losing calves, study says

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Cows that eat bark, berries or branches from western juniper trees late in pregnancy are more likely to abort their calves or give birth early, Oregon State University researchers have discovered.

The tree's harmful effect on pregnant cattle was unknown until an eastern Oregon veterinarian noticed a pattern of lost calves and asked the OSU Extension Service about it.

"People had always wondered what happened to the five to 10 percent of cows with lost pregnancies," said Tim Deboodt, a range management specialist with Extension in Crook County. "So we started our research from scratch on a tip."

OSU researchers pinpointed that western juniper contains toxins known as labdane acids. These chemical compounds constrict the flow of oxygen to a fetus. In the early 1970s, labdane acids, specifically isocupressic acid, were identified in ponderosa pine needles, which trigger premature birth in cows in a condition called pine needle abortion.

Two of the six heifers OSU researchers monitored lost calves after eating western juniper during the last 30 days of pregnancy. Only a small percentage of calves born early because of juniper or pine needles are likely to survive without intensive care, said Cory Parsons, a livestock specialist with Extension in Baker County.

OSU researchers are now conducting a larger study to examine juniper's effect on more than 20 cows in late pregnancy. Results are expected by summer 2013.

Oregon State researchers will also analyze if juniper consumption inhibits conception or bears any consequences early in pregnancy. Based on prior knowledge about pine needles, OSU researchers suspect that juniper is most likely to cause cows to abort during the last trimester of gestation – when fetuses need the most oxygen.

OSU's juniper research has been supported through a number of grants from the Oregon Beef Council and published in a handful of academic journals, including Rangelands and the International Journal of Poisonous Plant Research.

Western juniper abortions have not registered a large economic impact so far, Parsons said. Although some grazing cattle are in contact with juniper on a daily basis, cattle do not naturally seek it as food.

In recent decades, juniper trees have been piled up as riprap to stabilize the banks of creeks and streams being restored in western states. Cows may come in contact with these trees when they use these watering holes.

"If cattle have plenty to eat, they have no desire to chew on juniper," Parsons said, but then cautioned, "When cows are hungry and bored, they’re going to eat to fill their bellies up, especially during times of drought and heavy snow."

To reduce the risk of exposure to juniper during the last trimester of pregnancy, Parsons recommended slowly introducing cattle to areas where juniper exists if they have not already been acclimated to the site. He also suggested cutting lower branches off trees if possible and providing adequate feed daily to reduce the animals' desire to graze juniper.

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Cory Parsons, 541-523-6418

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Pregnant cattle

Pregnant cattle that consume parts of western juniper trees late in pregnancy risk losing calves. (Photo by Aimee Brown.)

Western juniper

A young juniper tree grows on an eastern Oregon ranch. Cattle can come in contact with juniper trees while grazing but have no desire to eat them if they have plenty of food. (Photo by Lynn Ketchum)

New OSU crops expert in Malheur County aims to reduce pesticide use

ONTARIO, Ore. – An entomologist formerly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture aims to help growers in Malheur County control key pests while reducing their use of pesticides in his new job with Oregon State University.

Stuart Reitz, who was with the USDA in Tallahassee, Fla., since 1999, started work in August as a field crops expert in Ontario.

In his new position, he will help farmers increase the number of "good" insects that kill crop-damaging pests like thrips, an insect that transmits a virus and can seriously reduce the yield and size of onions. In potatoes, he'll identify and study insects that attack aphids and psyllids, also known as jumping plant lice.

Reitz will also help growers determine the optimal amounts of fertilizer to apply. Too much fertilizer can attract unwanted pests.

"It's a holistic way of figuring out the most effective way to control pests," Reitz said. "We like to think of it as a win-win situation. Growers can produce a better crop with fewer pests and fewer inputs."

Reitz is also helping growers determine how best to use chemicals to reduce their environmental impact and to keep pests from becoming resistant to them.

Reitz will also email or send text messages to farmers with updates on pests, and he'll post the information on the website of the Pacific Northwest and Treasure Valley Pest Alert Network at http://www.tvpestalert.net.

Another of his duties is helping farmers comply with new, more restrictive federal rules for fumigating fields that took effect Dec. 1, 2012. Among other requirements, farmers must now have a large buffer area around fields and ensure field workers have appropriate training to handle chemicals. 

"There's no beating around the bush - these are hazardous chemicals and at the end of the sprayer is dangerous stuff," Reitz said. "So people need to be careful with it."

Reitz brings to the table his knowledge gained as a former co-director for the Center for Biological Control at Florida A&M University. The center aims to reduce the use of agricultural pesticides by using beneficial insects and pathogens to control crop-damaging pests.

In his new job, Reitz will spend a quarter of his time conducting research and the rest of the time helping growers in his role as a field crops expert with the OSU Extension Service.

"It's been a lot of learning and trying to get out and meet growers and other people in industry," Reitz said. "I got here at the end of the growing season but I've had some projects I've been able to get going."

The public-facing aspect of the Extension Service was a new role that appealed to Reitz, who earned a doctorate in entomology and a master's in zoology from Clemson University in South Carolina.

"You want to know that what you're doing has direct impact," Reitz said. "Anybody can come into the office and have a question or a problem, and we can provide an answer."

Although state and federal sources fund Reitz’s position, taxpayers in Malheur County pay for his office and operational support. Malheur County voters approved a property tax levy in May 2012 to hire a second crops agent and a 4-H assistant and to support Extension-related research at OSU's Malheur Experiment Station. A search for the second field crops faculty member, whose salary will be funded by this tax levy is under way. That person will focus on crops other than onions and potatoes and on water quality management in agriculture.

Media Contact: 

Stuart Reitz, 541-881-1417

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Stuart Reitz is a new field crops agent working for Oregon State University Extension Service in Ontario. (Photo by Bobbi Howell)