OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of agricultural sciences

OSU researchers helping China’s rarest seabird rebound from near-extinction

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A collaborative project between researchers in Asia and Oregon has helped establish a new breeding colony for one of the world’s most endangered seabirds – the Chinese crested tern, which has a global population estimated at no more than 50 birds.

Until this year, there were only two known breeding colonies for the critically endangered species (Thalasseus bernsteini) – both in island archipelagos close to the east coast of the People’s Republic of China. Once thought to be extinct, there were no recorded sightings of Chinese crested terns from the 1930s until 2000, when a few birds were rediscovered on the Matsu Islands.

This summer an innovative tern colony restoration began, with assistance from students and faculty in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University. Dan Roby, a professor of wildlife ecology at OSU, had previously led efforts to relocate populations of Caspian terns from locations along the Columbia River in Oregon, where the birds were consuming significant quantities of juvenile salmon.

“The problem was different in Oregon than it is in China, but the goal was the same – to alter the habitat in a good location in hopes of creating a breeding colony,” Roby said. “The methods also were similar and based on tern restoration techniques developed by Steve Kress of the National Audubon Society. You have to partially clear an island of vegetation, place decoys there, and attract birds using sound.”

In early May of 2013, an international team did just that on a small island in the Jiushan Islands called Tiedun Dao. Chinese crested terns used to breed on the archipelago a decade ago, increasing the chances that restoration could be successful there, Roby said.

The project team included members from the Xiangshan Ocean and Fishery Bureau, the Jiushan Islands National Nature Reserve, the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, and OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. The team members cleared brush off Tiedun Dao, place 300 tern decoys on the island, and used solar-powered playback systems to broadcast recorded vocalizations of both greater crested terns and Chinese crested terns.

“Greater crested terns are not endangered and when they establish colonies, it sometimes attracts the endangered Chinese crested tern,” Roby pointed out. “We thought if we could get them in to colonize the island, their numbers would eventually grow and the Chinese crested terns might follow.

“We just didn’t expect it to happen that quickly,” Roby added.

The researchers thought it might take years – but by July, a handful of greater crested terns were spotted flying over the decoys. By the end of that month, 2,600 greater crested terns had been documented and hundreds of pairs had laid eggs and begun incubating them. To the surprise of the restoration team, 19 adult Chinese crested terns were spotted on the island and at least two pairs laid eggs.

It was the highest single count of the endangered seabird in one location since the species’ rediscovery in 2000.

By late September – despite typhoons and a late start to the breeding season – more than 600 greater crested tern chicks, and at least one Chinese crested tern chick had successfully fledged.

Local officials say they are committed to the protection of the emerging colony.

“We will do our best to ensure good management of the Jiushan Islands National Nature Reserve and we also hope to receive more support for the conservation of the tern colony here in Xiangshan,” said Yu Mingquan, deputy director of the provincial Xiangshan Ocean and Fishery Bureau.

The success of the colony on Tiedun Dao is a “landmark for contemporary conservation in the region,” said Simba Chan, the senior Asia conservation officer for Birdlife. “No one dared imagine that the first year of such a challenging restoration project would be so successful.”

Funding for the project was provided by numerous sources internationally.

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Dan Roby, 541-737-1955; Daniel.Roby@oregonstate.edu

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Oregon Hatchery Research Center to host annual free fishing day June 4

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon Hatchery Research Center will offer a free fishing day and open house on Saturday, June 4, at the center, which is located just off Highway 34 about 13 miles west of Alsea. The event will run from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

A small pond for children ages 5 and under will be set up at the center and it will have access for the disabled. It will be stocked with rainbow trout and fishing gear. Bait and assistance will be provided, if needed.

The free fishing day extends to nearby Thissel Pond, located approximately one half-mile from the center. A free shuttle will transport anglers to Thissel Pond, which is also stocked with trout, but does not have disability access.

The center will also be open for tours and exhibits. Concessions will be available.

Free fishing day at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center coincides with the free fishing weekend established by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. No licenses are necessary.

To reach the center, travel about 13 miles past the town of Alsea on Highway 34 and turn north at milepost 27 onto East Fall Creek Road. Drive about 2.5 miles on that road to reach the center.

Hatchery managers caution visitors to drive carefully on the gravel road; obey the 25-mile-per-hour speed limit; and be aware of pedestrians – especially children – on or near the road.

The center is a collaborative project between ODFW and Oregon State University. The free fishing day is sponsored by ODFW, Siuslaw National Forest, and the Alsea Sportsman’s Association.

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Ryan Couture, 541-487-5510, ext. 100; ryan.b.couture@state.or.us

Coal-tar based sealcoats on driveways, parking lots far more toxic than suspected

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The pavement sealcoat products used widely around the nation on thousands of asphalt driveways and parking lots are significantly more toxic and mutagenic than previously suspected, according to a new paper published this week by researchers from Oregon State University.

Of particular concern are the sealcoat products based on use of coal tar emulsions, experts say. Studies done with zebrafish – an animal model that closely resembles human reaction to toxic chemicals – showed developmental toxicity to embryos. 

Sealcoats are products often sprayed or brushed on asphalt pavements to improve their appearance and extend their lifespan. Products based on coal tar are most commonly used east of the U.S. continental divide, and those based on asphalt most common west of the divide.

The primary concern in sealcoats are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which are common products of any type of combustion, and have been shown to be toxic to birds, fish, amphibians, plants and mammals, including humans. 

There are many different types of PAHs. This study was able to examine the presence and biologic activity of a much greater number of them in sealcoats than has been done in any previous research. The OSU program studying PAHs is one of the most advanced of its type in the world, and can identify and analyze more than 150 types of PAH compounds.

It found some PAHs in coal tar sealcoats that were 30 times more toxic than one of the most common PAH compounds that was studied previously in these products by the U.S. Geological Survey. 

The OSU study also showed that new PAH compounds found in coal tar sealcoats had a carcinogenic risk that was 4 percent to 40 percent higher than any study had previously showed. Among the worst offenders were a group of 11 “high molecular weight” PAH derivative compounds, of which no analysis had previously been reported.

By contrast, the study showed that sealcoats based on asphalt, more commonly used in the West, were still toxic, but far less than those based on coal tar. Use of coal tar sealcoats, which are a byproduct of the coal coking process, is most common in the Midwest and East. 

The research was reported this week in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, in work supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science’s Superfund Research Program, and done by researchers in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and OSU College of Science.

“Our study is consistent with previous findings made by the USGS,” said Staci Simonich, a professor with appointments in OSU’s departments of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology and Chemistry. “But we were able to study a much wider number of PAH compounds than they did. As a result, we found even higher levels of toxicity in coal-tar based sealcoats than has previously been suspected.” 

“This should assist individuals and municipalities to make more informed decisions about the use of sealcoats and weigh their potential health risks against the benefits of these products,” said Simonich, the corresponding author on the study. “And if a decision is made to use sealcoats, we concluded that the products based on asphalt are significantly less toxic than those based on coal tar.”

The previous research done by the USGS about the potential health risks of sealcoat products has been controversial, with some industry groups arguing that the federal government agency overstated the risks. The new OSU study indicates that previous research has, if anything, understated the risks. 

A 2011 report from the USGS outlined how PAH compounds from sealcoat products can find their way into soils, storm waters, ponds, streams, lakes, and even house dust, as the compounds are tracked by foot, abraded by car tires, washed by rain and volatilize into the air. They reported that the house dust in residences adjacent to pavement that had been treated with a coal tar-based sealcoat had PAH concentrations 25 times higher than those normally found in house dust.

Some states and many municipalities around the nation have already banned the use of coal tar-based sealcoats, due to the human, wildlife and environmental health concerns. In the European Union, use of coal tar-based sealcoats is limited or banned.

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Staci Simonich, 541-737-9194 or staci.simonich@oregonstate.edu

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Researcher Staci Simonich

Staci Simonich, OSU professor

OSU soil scientist Rich Roseberg will lead southern Oregon ag research station

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Soil scientist Richard Roseberg of Oregon State University and the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station (OAES) has been named the new director of the OAES research station in southern Oregon.

Roseberg will head the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center (SOREC) in Central Point, one of 12 agricultural experiment stations around Oregon. The center has 34 faculty and staff and an overall budget of almost $2 million.

Roseberg will direct SOREC’s research program, which includes applied research in viticulture and enology, tree fruits, livestock, forage and integrated pest management. Area vineyardists, orchardists and ranchers collaborate by contributing sites, labor and equipment. The center also runs an experimental farm.

In addition to the director, SOREC employs four researchers, all of whom hold appointments in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. Two key positions, a viticulturist and a plant pathologist, are vacant at the moment; international searches are near completion, Roseberg said.

Roseberg comes from a research post at the Klamath Basin Research and Extension Center (KBREC) in Klamath Falls, where he studies cereal and forage crops and soil/water relations. He also conducts field trials of alternative crops, including Russian dandelion, a potential source of rubber, and teff, a cereal grain that grows well in semi-arid conditions. He was stationed at SOREC from 1990 to 2003 before transferring to Klamath Falls.

“It’s only 85 miles from station to station,” he said. “But the southern Oregon station is in a dramatically different climate—lower-elevation, warmer, and with an earlier growing season, which gives farmers much more crop choice.”

Roseberg will start on May 1, succeeding Philip Van Buskirk, who is retiring after 32 years. “Having Richard return to where he started his career at Oregon State University—and already knowing most of the stakeholders—will help him speed up and smooth his transition to director,” said Van Buskirk.

Cattle, hay, winter pears, farm forest products and wine grapes are southern Oregon’s top-value agricultural products, according to a 2015 report from the state Board of Agriculture. About 10 percent of the area is farmland (comprising about 625,000 acres), and about 10 percent of that is irrigated.

Southern Oregon’s Umpqua, Applegate and Rogue valleys are famous for their tree fruits, especially pears. In the last two decades, premium wine grapes have also become economically important. The area is home to more than 100 wineries and over 200 vineyards, growing warm-season varieties ranging from Albarino to Zinfandel.

SOREC’s viticulture research program, begun in 2007, includes field trials of grape varieties to see how they perform in southern Oregon’s warm, dry conditions and varied soils and microclimates. Researchers also are refining methods for efficient irrigation and sustainable pest control.

SOREC’s Extension programs will continue to be managed by John Punches, Extension regional administrator based in Roseburg. These include 4-H, Master Gardeners, Master Food Preservers and Family and Community Health, as well as outreach programs in small farms, horticulture and woodland management.

Funding for SOREC’s research and Extension activities comes from a mix of federal, state and county funds, research grants and private gifts. In May of 2014, Jackson County voters approved a service district that taxes property owners up to 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value. In 2015-16 the assessed rate was less than 4 cents, raising $560,816 to support SOREC’s programs.

About $166,000 of that total goes to research. “For quite a few years SOREC was in a tough situation, especially on the research side,” Roseberg said. “Now the voters have spoken. Instead of just surviving, we’ll be able to serve southern Oregon much better than we’ve been able to do before. Once we get our two new scientists on board, I expect some really great things to come out of this center.”

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Richard Roseberg, 541-833-4590, ext. 8-8316; Richard.roseberg@oregonstate.edu

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Richard Roseberg

OSU's Richard Roseberg is new SOREC head

Pioneering OSU whale researcher invests in graduate students

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Bruce Mate, the director of Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, and his wife Mary Lou have named the institute as a major beneficiary of their estate, a gift that builds on Mate’s 40-year career in scientific research and education.

A world-renowned expert in marine mammal research, Mate is best known for pioneering the use of satellite-monitored radio tags to track threatened and endangered whales, allowing discoveries about whale migration routes, habitats and behaviors.

The couple’s bequest, a commitment valued at $800,000, will add to the Mary Lou and Bruce R. Mate Marine Mammal Institute Fellowship, an endowment to support graduate students at the institute.

“OSU attracts extremely well-qualified graduate school candidates,” Mate said. “The frustration is that we can’t afford to accept nearly as many as we’d like to because of the expense taken on by the faculty member. Graduate students are funded through fellowships like this for their monthly stipend, while their research is usually funded from grants.

“The research needed to get an advanced degree in science today can be incredibly expensive. But I’ve worked long enough now to see multiple generations of my students go on to do wonderful things, including creation of terrific opportunities for others. A great education makes a huge difference for students.”

From his laboratory at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Mate has tracked by satellite the movements of humpback, blue, gray, pilot, right, fin, bowhead and sperm whales, as well as manatees and dolphins. A professor of fisheries and wildlife and holder of the endowed Marine Mammal Research Professorship, Mate has been featured on the Discovery Channel, PBS, BBC, National Geographic and other science programs.

“Over his career, Bruce took what was essentially a one-man operation and transformed it into a highly respected, globally recognized institute – now the second largest in the world for the study of marine mammals,” said Dan Arp, the Reub A. Long Professor and dean of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, which is the academic home of the Marine Mammal Institute.

“Oregon State’s expertise in marine studies is much broader, but the Marine Mammal Institute has really led the way in engaging the public in caring for the health of oceans and our environment,” Arp said. “Bruce’s ‘Whale Watching Spoken Here’ volunteer program is just one example.”

A registered nurse, Mary Lou Mate has long been supportive of her husband and his research, often taking leaves of absence from nursing to work with him. After retirement, she became a part-time research assistant so they could be together during their extensive field seasons. She has co-hosted annual expeditions for donors to San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja, California, to visit gray whales for almost 30 years.

In addition to their bequest, the Mates are among a growing group of faculty at Hatfield Marine Science Center who have made $25,000 commitments to help build a new marine studies facility for undergraduates at the complex. Some $2.5 million remains to be raised for the $50 million building.

“It is inspiring when the people closest to the university – our faculty and staff – personally invest in our mission. I’m deeply grateful to Bruce and Mary Lou,” said OSU president Edward J. Ray. “While Oregon State is blessed with many faculty who give generously in their lifetime, this is an extraordinary example of legacy giving.”

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Bruce Mate, 541-272-1175

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Bruce and Mary Lou Mate
Bruce and Mary Lou Mate

Study: Future for charismatic pika not as daunting as once feared

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The American pika is thought by many biologists to be a prime candidate for extirpation as the planet continues to warm, done in by temperatures too severe for this small mammal native to cold climates.

But a new study, published this week in the journal Global Change Biology, paints a different, more complex future for this rock-dwelling little lagomorph – the same order that includes rabbits and hares. Pikas may survive, even thrive, in some areas, the researchers say, while facing extirpation in others.

The research is important because pikas are considered a sentinel species for climate change impacts. 

Led by Oregon State University post-doctoral researcher Donelle Schwalm, the study delved into where pikas live and how they move among habitat patches. The team used that information to create species distribution models for eight National Park Service areas in the western United States and forecast pika distribution 30, 60 and 90 years into the future, based on expected climate change scenarios.

The Pikas in Peril research project, funded by the National Park Service, was launched in 2010 to determine how vulnerable the animals are to climate change in eight NPS units. 

“If you look at the overall picture, the amount of suitable habitat will decline and temperatures will warm in most of these National Parks,” Schwalm said. “But many of these sites have areas that are colder, higher and sometimes wetter than other areas, and pikas should do quite well there.

“In some parks, risk of extinction will increase,” she added. “But in other parks, like Grand Teton and Lassen, their populations should remain stable.” 

Pikas seek out icy pockets in rock fields or lava flows and live near other pikas in small patches of these cool habitats. One key to their survival appears to be maintaining connectivity among different pika patches, which keeps a satisfactory level of genetic diversity among the broader population and allows for the inevitable downturns in survival due to weather, predation, disease and other factors, noted Clinton Epps, an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and co-author on the study.

“If you just have three or four pikas in a given area, that’s a pretty small group and at the patch level, they can wink out pretty quickly,” said Epps, who studies habitat connectivity for many animal species. “But if you can maintain good connectivity, pikas can disperse from other patches and the overall system remains strong as long as habitat remains generally suitable.” 

The study found that connectivity influenced where pikas persist in most of the eight parks, and thus must be incorporated in forecasts of future pika populations, the researchers noted.

The ideal habitat for pikas is a high-elevation, cold boulder field with north- and east-facing slopes that is adjacent to similar boulder fields. The herbivorous pikas also need access to high-quality forage, including forbs, grasses, sedges, twigs, moss and lichen, said Thomas Rodhouse, a biologist with the National Park Service. 

“The study is important because it suggests that some parks may be more appropriate areas to focus our resources than others,” Rodhouse said. “If we look at it on a system-wide basis, the pika should survive. But we can’t say that they will be thriving, or even present, at all eight parks down the road.”

“We potentially could move pikas from vulnerable areas to locations with suitable habitat,” Rodhouse added. “Or we could discuss enhancing habitat and creating more connectivity, though you have to examine whether that is something we should be doing in a National Park. But this study allows us to begin having these strategic discussions.” 

Study results for the eight National Park Service units suggest that:

  • Crater Lake National Park’s pikas already occupy the highest-elevation habitat, thus there is no refuge to which pikas may escape. Warming temperatures, particularly in winter, may reduce the insulating snow layer and decrease patch occupancy by 50 to 100 percent;
  • Craters of the Moon National Monument is hotter and drier than the other parks and the best habitat is occupied. Although temperature and precipitation may change in this park, it appears that the pika will persist, although at lower numbers;
  • Grand Teton National Park has exceptional connectivity among habitat patches, which likely will persist over time. Cool temperatures and increasing precipitation at high elevations make this park an important refuge for the species;
  • Great Sand Dunes is a cool, dry park and pika populations may experience slight declines initially, but they also could increase over time as precipitation is projected to increase in the future;
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park has pikas well-distributed through the talus boulder fields and lava flows. Strong connectivity suggests pikas will persist under most climate change scenarios;
  • Lava Beds National Monument is unusually hot, dry and low in elevation, though the extensive lava flow is good habitat. Climate change modeling in this park was inconclusive, but low genetic diversity and warming suggests that this population is vulnerable;
  • Rocky Mountain National Park’s low elevations and south-facing slopes are impediments to gene flow. Rising temperatures, especially during the winter, and changing connectivity result in increasing likelihood of pika extirpation by the end of the century;
  • Yellowstone National Park also is predicted to see complete extirpation of pikas under most climate change scenarios because of warming and loss of connectivity.

As a sentinel species, pikas may provide a clue to how other animals react to climate change, the researchers note. “They can act as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, but they’re also just really cute, charismatic little animals,” Schwalm said. “There is a lot of public interest in preserving the pikas.”

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Doni Schwalm, 806-252-6074, doni.schwalm@oregonstate.edu; Clint Epps, 541-737-2478, clinton.epps@oregonstate.edu; Tom Rodhouse, 541-312-6425, tom.rodhouse@nps.gov

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Pika photo by Drew Rush

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Pika photo by Clinton Epps

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New chemical could yield therapy to prevent Type 1 diabetes

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University researchers have discovered a chemical that blocks Type 1 diabetes in laboratory mice and may work the same way in humans.

The chemical, nicknamed BBQ, works at the genetic level to prevent a rogue immune response from destroying insulin-producing cells in diabetic mice, researchers said.

If it works the same way in humans, it could yield a breakthrough therapy for Type 1 diabetes and possibly have applications in other autoimmune diseases as well, including colitis, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis.

“This compound has a very targeted effect, and it’s safe at therapeutic doses in mice,” said Nancy Kerkvliet, a professor in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences and lead researcher on a new study just published in the Journal of Immunology.

“If it works in human clinical studies, we envision a therapy that could be started early to block the onset of Type 1 diabetes, and maybe even cure it in the long run,” she said.

Type 1 diabetes — sometimes called juvenile diabetes — causes the immune system to destroy insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. The disease often doesn’t show symptoms until the pancreas damage is irreparable, Kerkvliet said.

The body needs insulin to move food energy, in the form of glucose, from the bloodstream into tissues. Type 1 diabetics usually have to take artificial insulin for the rest of their lives. Among U.S. children up to age 19, the incidence of Type 1 diabetes has increased 21 percent from 2001-2009, according to a 2014 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the new research, Kerkvliet’s laboratory worked with mice bred to develop Type 1 diabetes, one group of which received BBQ three times a week. A control group of untreated mice developed diabetes, while the BBQ-treated mice were protected from disease.

The treated mice showed virtually no inflammation in their pancreatic “islets” — the pockets of cells in the pancreas that make insulin, Kerkvliet said. Inflammation of these islets is a telltale sign of the disease. In contrast, all of the control mice showed extensive islet inflammation.

Researchers say that BBQ works by binding to a protein within cells called the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, or AhR, which then regulates genes that influence immune responses.

After the BBQ locks onto the AhR, it moves into the nucleus of T cells — white blood cells that coordinate the body’s immune response. There, AhR latches onto the DNA and changes the messaging of the genes, which prevents the T cell from attacking the pancreatic islets.

Allison Ehrlich, a postdoctoral fellow in the Kerkvliet Laboratory and co-researcher on the study, said the beauty of BBQ is that it works without shutting down the rest of the immune system, unlike current steroid-based immunosuppressants.

Erlich said that T cells are born “naïve,” and “learn” to attack harmful pathogens. As this happens, the cells become more specialized — a process called differentiation.

“When BBQ binds to the AhR, it stops new T cells from differentiation,” Ehrlich said. “The ‘memory’ T cells, those that already exist, aren’t affected. So the body stays protected against pathogens it has been exposed to in the past.”

In earlier studies, Kerkvliet discovered that the chemical TCDD — better known as dioxin — also binds to AhR and prevents Type 1 diabetes in mice. But dioxin is not a good candidate for an immune-suppression therapy, she said, because it lingers in the body for years after exposure and is considered a toxic chemical.

“So we went looking for another compound that would function in the same way but without the bad effects,” said co-researcher Siva Kolluri. After screening tens of thousands of chemicals, Kolluri’s laboratory hit upon BBQ. Unlike dioxin, BBQ has a good safety profile, he said.

Kerkvliet said BBQ also has potential for treating other autoimmune diseases such as colitis, psoriasis and multiple sclerosis. It holds promise for alleviating graft-versus-host disease by suppressing the immune response in, for example, organ-transplant surgery.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health and appears in the January 2016 issue of The Journal of Immunology.

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Nancy Kerkvliet, 541-737-4387, nancy.kerkvliet@oregonstate.edu

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Nancy Kerkvliet, Oregon State University immunotoxicologist, researches chemicals that suppress the immune system. Photo by Stephen Ward.
Nancy Kerkvliet, Oregon State University

Climate change may bring global food insecurity, impacts on U.S.

CORVALLIS, Ore. - The warming of Earth’s climate threatens to increase global food insecurity and halt more than two decades of progress toward curbing global hunger, according to a major assessment by 31 researchers.

Worldwide, climate change is likely to destabilize cropping systems, interrupt transportation networks and trigger food shortages and price hikes, says the report, unveiled last week by U.S. agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack at the UN’s COP-21 climate conference in Paris.

While the pace of these changes depends on a multitude of factors, their effects will become more pronounced by mid-century, the researchers found. Under the least optimistic scenario—based on high carbon emissions and low international cooperation—agricultural yields could go down by as much as 15 percent and food prices could rise more than 30 percent by 2050. 

“A lot has been written about the impacts of climate change on agriculture in developing countries,” said John Antle, an agricultural economist in the College of Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State University who led the study’s socioeconomic modeling.

“What’s different about this study is that it brings the impact of food insecurity home to the United States,” Antle said. 

While developing countries, particularly in tropical regions, will suffer the most, the United States - the world’s largest exporter of food - will also feel the shocks, he said. Hunger is not expected to rise in the world’s richest country, but climate-driven changes are expected to lower long-term agricultural productivity, with an impact on a major sector of the U.S. economy.

Climate is, of course, the most important influence on agriculture. The crops in various regions of the world are adapted to particular regimes of temperature, season length and rainfall. When those parameters change with a changing climate, agricultural systems are disrupted. 

What’s less recognized, say the researchers, is that climate change also disrupts global systems for transporting, storing, packaging and delivering food, making it harder for people to get enough of the right kind of food, especially in regions that already are food-insecure.

The percentage of the world’s undernourished people has been cut nearly in half since 1990-91, from 19 percent to 11 percent, according to the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. 

“The challenge we now face,” Vilsack said in a statement, “is whether we can maintain and even accelerate this progress despite the threats from climate change.”

Earth’s climate is getting warmer because of increased carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse” gases in the atmosphere. Two hundred years ago the atmosphere held about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Now it holds about 400 parts per million, and as a result, Earth’s average temperature has risen about 0.8 degrees C (1.4 degrees F). 

The report reviews and synthesizes recent research by global and regional modeling teams that projects impacts of climate change on agricultural production, consumption, prices and trade.

One of these teams is the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project. Antle is a co-leader of that project, which uses detailed regional data to assess the vulnerability of poor rural populations to economic disruptions linked to climate. Antle leads the project’s regional economic assessment teams in Africa and South Asia. 

“These assessments have helped us develop a range of plausible outcomes from the variety of responses to different levels of climate change,” Antle said.

“Agriculture has adapted to various shifts in climate over time, but I think the concern now is how rapidly things are changing,” he said. “We have a growing global population and increasing pressure on water, soil and other resources. Even without climate change, feeding the world would likely get harder.” 

The researchers also said that appropriate technological, economic and policy decisions could greatly mitigate the destabilizing effects of climate.

“Climate Change, Global Food Security and the U.S. Food System” is the result of a 3-year study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan. Its 31 contributors represent universities and other research institutions in four countries. 

The Paris climate conference continues through Friday, Dec. 11.

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John Antle, 541-737-1425, john.antle@oregonstate.edu

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John Antle, agricultural economist at Oregon State University. Photo by Studio Lux Images.

John Antle, Oregon State University

OSU study: Packaging insecticides in tiny capsules may make them more toxic

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Encasing insecticides in microscopic plastic capsules—a common formulation for many pest sprays on the market—may make them more toxic than the active ingredient alone, according to a new study from Oregon State University.

Environmental toxicologist Stacey Harper and her team found that a common agricultural insecticide in its “capsule suspension” formulation—with molecules of the active ingredient encapsulated in tiny, inert plastic pellets—was more toxic than the same amount of active ingredient delivered straight up in water.

Their study appeared in this month’s edition of the journal Environment International.

Harper, an associate professor in the College of Agricultural Sciences and the College of Engineering, and her doctoral student Alicea Meredith studied a commercial pyrethroid-type insecticide with an encapsulated active ingredient, lambda-cyhalothrin. The product is a broad-spectrum insecticide approved for use in many field and row crops. Its label warns that it is toxic to fish and other water-dwelling organisms.

The capsules encasing the product’s active ingredient range from micron-sized (a red blood cell is about 8 microns in diameter; a human hair is 40-75 microns thick), to nanometer-sized, a thousand times smaller.

“We set out to see whether the size of the capsule made any difference in toxicity or environmental fate,” Harper said. She hypothesized that the tinier capsules would be more toxic than the bigger ones, because they would be able to penetrate cells more readily.

The researchers spun the off-the-shelf product in a centrifuge and sorted its capsules into two size classes. There was a wide range of sizes; most capsules were in the neighborhood of micron-sized, but some were nanometer-sized.

They exposed the embryos of zebrafish to six successively stronger doses of the pesticide’s active ingredient. One group got it in micron-sized capsules, and another group got the same dose in nanometer-sized capsules. As a control, a third group of embryos got the same dose of active ingredient, but it was not encapsulated.

In all cases, the lowest dose administered (20 micrograms of active ingredient per liter of water) was higher than any likely to be used in a commercial spray. “We started with a dose we knew to be toxic because we wanted to compare the toxicity of these two capsule sizes,” Harper said.

Zebrafish, a fast-growing species common in home aquariums, are useful for toxicology testing, Harper said, because their bodies are transparent as they grow, enabling researchers to spot developmental anomalies from exposure to toxic chemicals.

Over five days the embryos showed the effects of pesticide poisoning, including physical malformations, tremoring, paralysis and death. But the pesticide in the smaller capsules was no more toxic than the pesticide in the larger ones, Harper said—the higher doses were more toxic across the board, regardless of capsule size.

“What was more surprising,” she said, “was that the active ingredient alone was significantly less toxic than either of the encapsulated formulations. We didn’t set out to test this, but it’s what we found.”

Chemical manufacturers have offered encapsulated formulations of pesticides for more than 50 years, Harper said, because encapsulation is thought to improve the product’s dispersal and durability. “Our findings indicate that these formulations may be affecting where a chemical spreads through an environment and how it interacts with biological systems,” she said.  

While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requires pesticide manufacturers to test a product’s active ingredient for toxicity, it doesn’t require testing of commercial formulations of the product, which are usually trade secrets. This means toxicity screening may underestimate—or perhaps overestimate—the actual environmental hazard of a chemical when it’s used in real-life situations, said Harper.

“The testing assumes that the encapsulation makes no difference in the toxicity,” she said, “but in this case, at least, it does. So it’s important to figure out how the carrier of a chemical product affects its toxicity in order to determine whether our current risk assessments offer enough protection against products that incorporate this encapsulation technology.”

Harper, also an environmental engineer, studies the environmental effects of human-made nanoparticles—microscopic bits of matter engineered to have commercially useful properties. Nanoparticles are widely used in pharmaceuticals, pesticides and personal care products, but little is known about their long-term environmental or health effects.

The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture and by OSU’s Agricultural Research Foundation.

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Stacey Harper, 541-737-2791, stacey.harper@oregonstate.edu

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Zebrafish are used to test toxicity of environmental chemicals. Photo by Stephen Ward

zebrafish

Stacey Harper. Photo by Frank Miller

Stacey Harper, OSU environmental toxicologist

OSU awards $68,000 in agricultural scholarships

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences has awarded 34 undergraduates $68,000 in scholarships for the 2015-2016 school year.

The scholarships are made possible by gifts to the college.

Recipients of the 2015 scholarships are:

ALBANY: Michael Perkins, agricultural business management major, received the $1,000 Savery Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

BLODGETT: Andrew Damitio, environmental economics and policy major, received the $1,000 Charles E. and Clara Marie Eckelman Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

CENTRAL POINT: Elizabeth Puttman, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Grange Co-op Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

CORVALLIS: Nicole Barrett, fisheries and wildlife major, received the $1,000 Lawrence E. and Marguerite Kaseberg Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

CORVALLIS: Holly Omoto, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Savery Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

DAMASCUS: Matthew Crouser, agricultural business management major, received the $1,000 Frank Burlingham Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

DAYTON: Joanna Kubes, agricultural business management major, received the $1,000 Frank Burlingham Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

EDMONDS, Washington: Hanna Lee, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Eugene H. Fisher Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

EL CAJON, California: Alessia Azevedo, fisheries and wildlife major, received the $1,000 Charles E. and Clara Marie Eckelman Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

GOLD BEACH: Hannah Hooker, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Karla S. Chambers Leadership Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

HILLSBORO: Rachel Wirachman, food science and technology major, received the $1,000 Paul and Frances Montecucco Beginning Venture Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

HILLSBORO: Lindy Yoder, horticulture major, received the $1,000 Paul and Frances Montecucco Beginning Venture Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

INDEPENDENCE: Courtney Chase, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Naumes Family Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

KENT, Ohio: Costanza Fantoni, environmental sciences and sustainability majors, received the $1,000 Frank Burlingham Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

LAKE OSWEGO: Anya Britvan, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 John & Florence Scharff Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

LAKE OSWEGO: Annelise Jahraus, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Eugene H. Fisher Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

LAKE OSWEGO: Hannah Karimi, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Loren J. Smith Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

LONGVIEW: Cara Caldwell, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 John & Florence Scharff Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

MEDFORD: Alyssa Ettinger, animal sciences major, received $1,000 Tillamook County Creamery Association Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

NEWBERG: Kearsten Friedrich, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Summers Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

NEWBERG: Margaret Halstead, crop and soil science major, received the $1,000 Loren J. Smith Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

OAKLAND: Kayla Rushing, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Jernstedt Family Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

ONTARIO: Nathan Andersen, crop and soil science major, received the $1,000 Charles E. and Clara Marie Eckelman Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

ONTARIO: Brecklin Milton, agricultural business management major, received the $1,000 Charles E. and Clara Marie Eckelman Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

ONTARIO: Breanna Panages, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Summers Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

PENDLETON: Nels Swenson, agricultural sciences major, received the $1,000 Savery Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

PLACENTIA, California: Lauren Lerch, botany major, received the $1,000 Loren J. Smith Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

PORTLAND: Amita Kashyap, bioresource research major, received the $1,000 Clifford Smith Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

RENO, Nevada: Elizabeth Nicholas, food science and technology major, received the $1,000 Clifford Smith Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

SALEM: Kelsi Limbach, horticulture major, received the $1,000 Jernstedt Family Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

SCIO: Marcel Ortiz, agricultural sciences major, received the $1,000 Frank Burlingham Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

SPRINGFIELD: Connor Mackenzie, agricultural sciences major, received the $1,000 Frank Burlingham Memorial Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 Ursula Bolt Knaus Scholarship.

TWIN FALLS, Idaho: Kelsey Rogers, animal sciences major, received the $1,000 Savery Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

WEST LINN: Jessica Chadwick, biological and ecological engineering major, received the $1,000 Jernstedt Family Agricultural Honors Scholarship, and the $1,000 John W. DeMuth, Jr. Agricultural Sciences Scholarship.

OSU offers more grant and scholarship dollars than any other college or university in Oregon. A significant portion of this is provided by donors to the OSU Foundation, who have contributed more than $185 million over the last decade to support scholarships, fellowships and other awards for students.

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Paul Dorres, 541-737-5655, paul.dorres@oregonstate.edu