OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

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Study: The family dog could help boost physical activity for kids with disabilities

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The family dog could serve as a partner and ally in efforts to help children with disabilities incorporate more physical activity into their daily lives, a new study from Oregon State University indicates.

In a case study of one 10-year-old boy with cerebral palsy and his family’s dog, researchers found the intervention program led to a wide range of improvements for the child, including physical activity as well as motor skills, quality of life and human-animal interactions. 

“These initial findings indicate that we can improve the quality of life for children with disabilities, and we can get them to be more active,” said Megan MacDonald, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences and corresponding author on the study. “And in this case, both are happening simultaneously, which is fantastic.”

The researchers detailed the child’s experience in the adapted physical activity intervention program in a case study just published in the journal Animals. Co-authors are Monique Udell of the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences; Craig Ruaux of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine; Samantha Ross of the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences; Amanda Tepfer of Norwich University and Wendy Baltzer of Massey University in New Zealand. The research was supported by the Division of Health Sciences at OSU. 

Children with physical disabilities such as cerebral palsy spend significantly less time participating in physical activity compared to their peers and are considered a health disparity group, meaning they generally face more health concerns than their peers.

Researchers designed an adapted physical activity, animal-assisted intervention where the family dog would serve as a partner with the child in physical activities designed to help improve overall physical activity, motor skills and quality of life. The family dog is a good choice for this type of intervention because the animal is already known to the child and there is an existing relationship – and both the dog and the child will benefit from the activities, MacDonald said. 

Researchers took initial assessments of the child’s daily physical activity, motor skills and quality of life before starting the eight-week intervention. A veterinarian examined the dog’s fitness for participation and the human-animal interaction between the dog, a year-old Pomeranian, and the child was also assessed. 

Then the pair began the eight-week intervention, which included a supervised physical activity program once a week for 60 minutes and participation in activities such as brushing the dog with each hand; playing fetch and alternating hands; balancing on a wobble board; and marching on a balancing disc. 

“The dog would also balance on the wobble board, so it became a challenge for the child – if the dog can do it, I can, too,” MacDonald said. “It was so cool to see the relationship between the child and the dog evolve over time. They develop a partnership and the activities become more fun and challenging for the child. It becomes, in part, about the dog and the responsibility of taking care of it.”

The dog and the child also had “homework,” which included brushing the dog, playing fetch and going on daily walks. The child wore an accelerometer to measure physical activity levels at home. 

At the conclusion of the intervention, researchers re-assessed and found that the child’s quality of life had increased significantly in several areas, including emotional, social and physical health, as assessed by the child as well as the parent. In addition, the child’s sedentary behavior decreased and time spent on moderate to vigorous activity increased dramatically.

“The findings so far are very encouraging,” MacDonald said. “There’s a chance down the road we could be encouraging families to adopt a dog for the public health benefits. How cool would that be?” 

The researchers also found that the relationship between the dog and the child improved over the course of the therapy as they worked together on various tasks. The dog’s prosocial, or positive, behavior toward the child is a sign of wellbeing for both members of the team, said Udell, who is director of the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at OSU.

“A closer child-dog bond increases the likelihood of lasting emotional benefits and may also facilitate long-term joint activity at home, such as taking walks, simply because it is enjoyable for all involved,” she said. 

This study is one of the first to evaluate how a dog’s behavior and wellbeing are affected by their participation in animal-assisted therapy, Udell noted. From an animal welfare standpoint, it is promising that the dog’s behavior and performance on cognitive and physical tasks improved alongside the child’s.

Though the case study features only one child, the research team recruited several families with children with disabilities and their dogs to participate in the larger project, which was designed in part to test the design and methodology of the experiment and determine if it could be implemented on a larger scale. 

Based on the initial results, researchers hope to pursue additional studies involving children with disabilities and their family dogs, if funding can be secured. They would like to examine other benefits such a pairing might have, including the sense of responsibility the child appears to gain during the course of the intervention.

“We’re also learning a lot from our child participants,” MacDonald said. “They’re teaching us stuff about friendship with the animal and the responsibility of taking care of a pet, which allows us to ask more research questions about the influence of a pet on the child and their family.” 

Oregon families interested in learning more about future research projects related to this work can contact Megan MacDonald, megan.macdonald@oregonstate.edu, to be included on an interest list.

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Megan MacDonald, 541-737-3273, Megan.MacDonald@oregonstate.edu

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Corvallis Science Pub focuses on the surprising science and history of leavening agents

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Cakes, breads, biscuits and other baked goods rise to the occasion as they heat up in the oven, and the agents responsible for this feat have a surprising story.

At the Corvallis Science Pub on Monday, April 10, Sue Queisser will discuss the history of leavening agents and offer troubleshooting tips that can help bakers achieve the results they are looking for. The Science Pub is free and open to the public. It begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 S.W. Second  St. in Corvallis.

Queisser manages the Center for Sensory and Consumer Behavior Research at Oregon State University and owns Melarova Baking in Corvallis. She worked as an engineer before earning a food science degree at OSU and applying her skills at several Willamette Valley food companies.

“Some of the earliest leavening agents were derived from antlers, ashes or even urine,” said Queisser. “I’ll talk about why a cake might collapse even if you follow the recipe and how yeast works with flour and water to produce that glorious thing we call bread.”

Sponsors of Science Pub include Terra magazine at OSU, the Downtown Corvallis Association and the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. 

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Sue Queisser, susan.queisser@oregonstate.edu, 541-737-6506

    

OSU names Mix, Selker as distinguished professors

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has named Alan Mix and John Selker as its 2017 Distinguished Professor recipients, the highest academic honor the university can bestow on a faculty member.

This honor will be permanent as long as the recipient remains at OSU.

“These two extraordinary scientists are helping people around the world to understand how our environment functions, now and at times in the distant past,” said Edward Feser, provost and executive vice president at OSU.

“John Selker has done groundbreaking work in environmental instrumentation, soil physics and hydrology, creating for that purpose innovative new applications in fiber optics,” Feser said. “His work to explain how water moves through soils and on surfaces relates to everything from modern agriculture to ecology, aquatic science, groundwater and the protection of our environment.

“Alan Mix has viewed the world not only as it is today, but as it used to be thousands of years ago. This helps us understand what forces were at work then and what that may mean for our future as the climate changes.  He has tied together prehistoric changes on land, sea, in ice and biota, from the tropics to the ice packs, and is one of the pioneers in studying ‘tipping points’ at which global change might accelerate.”

Selker, a professor in the Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering, has published more than 115 scientific papers that have been cited thousands of times. Selker received his doctorate in hydrology from Cornell University and has been on the OSU faculty since 1991. He has received multiple career awards in his field, is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, and routinely involves undergraduate OSU students in his international research and training experiences.

Selker individually created new instruments and measurement devices that have helped revolutionize the field of hydrology. He recently organized a public/private initiative to improve instrumentation of weather in Africa, which could dramatically improve African agriculture, aid the study of global climate change and help address other needs in African sustainability and economic development.

Mix, a professor in the OSU College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, has generated 244 publications and more than 17,500 citations as one of the world’s leading paleoclimatologists. Findings in the geologic record about past climatic changes are a key to understanding the present, the forces now at work and what they may bring.

Mix has received more than $31 million in research funding through 89 grants, participated in 19 major global expeditions and for 20 years managed the OSU marine geology repository for sediment cores. In a male-dominated field, half of his graduate students have been women, international or underrepresented minority students.

Both professors will give public lectures on May 15 in the Horizon Room of the Memorial Union on topics in their area of research.

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Edward Feser, 541-737-0731

ed.feser@oregonstate.edu

Northeast lakes recovering from acid rain may give trout refuge from climate change

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Lakes recovering from the impacts of acid rain in the northeastern United States may offer a buffer from the effects of climate change for an iconic recreational fishery.

Brook trout are sensitive to acidity and to water temperature. While recent reductions in acid rain have led to brook trout recovery in many mountain lakes, these fish are increasingly under threat from more frequent and severe hot summers.

Fortunately, trout may benefit from an unanticipated change in lake water chemistry. That’s because changes in water clarity can affect the amount of deep, cold water habitat, and provide a key refuge for trout from increased warming at the lake surface.

Lakes recovering from acid rain tend to experience increases in the amount of plankton and dissolved organic matter in the water. As a result, sunlight can’t penetrate as far into the lake. The darker water reduces light penetration and the amount of solar radiation that reaches deep water. 

In a report published today in the journal Global Change Biology, scientists led by Dana Warren, an aquatic biologist at Oregon State University, described the changes that are unfolding in these lakes and the implications for brook trout. Co-authors were from Syracuse and Cornell universities

Since passage of federal Clean Air Act regulations in the 1980s and 90s, the researchers wrote, acid rain has been reduced, and lake-water chemistry has begun to return to pre-industrial conditions. That process is expected to take many more decades, but scientists are now seeing self-sustaining brook trout populations become re-established in lakes where they have been absent or in low abundance for three decades or more.

The changes in water chemistry may facilitate that trend.

“As lakes recover, they get darker. Darker water absorbs more light, and solar radiation doesn’t go as deep,” said Warren. “This means that warming is kept to the upper layers of the lake, which can lead to more cold-water refuge habitat in deeper water during hot summers, like the one we saw last year across the northeast.”

This process is particularly important for trout in the numerous small lakes across eastern North America, he said, where the amount of cold-water refuge and the degree of lake stratification can be limited in hot summers.

Warren is affiliated with the colleges of Forestry and Agricultural Sciences at Oregon State. His research focuses on the interaction of chemical, physical and biological factors in lakes and streams.

In the Adirondack region of New York — an area heavily impacted by acid rain — a self-sustaining brook trout fishery has returned to a lake where Cornell researchers have worked for more than 50 years. Located on private land, the lake represents a well-studied example of native trout recovery in a historically acidified mountain lake ecosystem. Similar improvements have been seen in Brook Trout Lake in the southern Adirondacks and in a dozen other lakes in Adirondack Park that have been stocked with this iconic fish species.

Brook trout generally prefer temperatures below 61 degrees and become stressed when temperatures exceed 68 degrees.

In addition to changing the amount of organic matter leached from the landscape, chemical changes brought about by acid rain reductions can also increase the supply of phosphorus, a critical nutrient for plankton. As plankton multiply, they reduce light penetration into the water and cause the boundary between the layer of warm surface water and colder deep water to rise — creating a thinner, warmer layer at the top and a larger, cooler area below.

Climate models for the Northeast suggest that summer temperatures in this region are likely to increase, and the top layers of stratified lakes are therefore also expected to become warmer and larger.

“It is important to recognize that this fortunate by-product of acid-rain recovery does not eliminate the direct and indirect threats to these populations from climate change,” Warren added.

“It may afford the populations in these lakes greater resistance to impacts of climate change in the near future, but in the long term, climate change remains a major issue for trout, especially those in more southerly regions at the edge of their range.” 

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Dana Warren, 541-737-2244, dana.warren@oregonstate.edu

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Study documents staggering loss of wildlife following Amazon “Rubber Boom”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers for the first time have documented the killing of millions of animals in Brazil’s Amazon Basin for their hides following the collapse of the Rubber Boom in the 20th century, causing the collapse of some aquatic species.

Yet despite the harvest of many terrestrial animals, most land-based species appear to have survived the carnage. 

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

“There was a massive international trade in furs and skins taken from the Amazon in Brazil during much of the 20th century, yet surprisingly no previous studies documented the exploitation of the animals or the resilience of the ecosystem,” said Taal Levi, a wildlife ecologist at Oregon State University and co-author on the study. 

Beginning in the late 19th century, roughly half a million colonists entered the Amazon region to extract rubber across all the major river basins. An immense fleet of steamships was built for transport and trade and a network of river merchants purchased forest products from extraction industries. When rubber prices collapsed in 1912 because of competition from Malaysian plantations, the enterprises that did not go bankrupt sought other products.

Thus began the international trade in Amazonian animal hides, which persisted for decades until protective laws were established. 

The researchers, including by lead author André Pinassi Antunes of Brazil’s Wildlife Conservation Society, examined cargo manifests of the steamships, port registries, and other documents that reported actual hide export data. The research team estimates that between 1904 and 1969, at least 23 million animals representing 20 species of mammals and reptiles were hunted for hide exports and registered through these records.

“These figures, no doubt, vastly underrepresent the total number of animals killed since many were hidden to avoid taxes and others were wounded or killed and never made it to the steamships,” Levi said. “Other animals were killed as part of subsistence hunting to support the colonists and the extraction industries.” 

Using export data, the researchers documented the greatest losses to aquatic species. The hunting caused the widespread collapse of giant river otter, black caiman, and manatee populations.

“The aquatic animals were more vulnerable because rivers were easily accessible and the animals were in essence trapped there,” Levi said. “There wasn’t as much effort spent hunting animals on land, thus the terrestrial species – in general – were affected less by commercial hunting.” 

Among the researchers estimates for the period of 1904-69:

  • More than 4.4 million black caimans were killed, with the harvest during the last five years dwindling by 92 percent from the peak;
  • 110,504 manatees were killed, reducing the harvest by 91 percent from the peak;
  • 386,491 giant otters were killed, reducing the harvest by 88 percent from the peak;
  • 793,133 capybaras were killed, reducing the harvest by 75 percent from the peak.

Although many terrestrial species also were taken for their hides, the impact wasn’t as great, the researchers note. For example, 5,443,795 collared peccary – a species of pig – were killed but the harvest was actually higher during the last five years than earlier in the century, indicating more resilience of the ecosystem to support the species. Likewise, 4,152,218 red brocket deer were killed with the harvest increasing 16 percent during the peak. 

However, more than 3.1 million white-lipped peccary were reported in the export data and many more may have been killed, Antunes noted.

“It is a vital species for ecosystem function, but also one of the most impacted terrestrial species,” Antunes said. “They live in large herds and have been one of the most prized species by subsistence hunters in Amazonia.” The harvest of white-lipped peccary was reduced by 67 percent from the peak. 

Other terrestrial species also declined, including ocelot (804,080 killed, and a 13 percent decline) and jaguar (182,564 killed and 30 percent decline).

“The international trade in hides peaked during World War II, when the United States sought Amazonian rubber to replace the rubber from Malaysia that the Japanese had captured,” said Levi, who is on faculty of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “A second peak of animal hide exports came in the 1960s when exotic furs became fashionable.” 

In 1967, Brazil passed a faunal protection law that severely restricted hunting for many of the affected species, and in 1975 the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was ratified, vastly reducing the trade of hides from the Amazon.

The researchers say the baseline data in their study will help resource managers develop sound policies to protect Amazon species. 

“Research by other ecologists is showing that some of these species are beginning to recover, including the black caiman, which is the second largest crocodilian species in the world,” Levi said. “They can grow up to 20 feet long. But prior to this, we’ve never been sure just how resilient animals were to high harvests in the past.”

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Taal Levi, 541-737-4067, taal.levi@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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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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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

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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Source: 

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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Multimedia: 

Pika photo by Drew Rush

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Pika photo by Clinton Epps

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