OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

college of forestry

Bushmeat hunting threatens mammal populations and ecosystems, poses food security threat

CORVALLIS, Ore. — The ongoing decline of more than 300 species of animals is having significant environmental impacts and posing a food security threat for millions of people in Asia, Africa and South America, according to the first global assessment of the hunting and trapping of terrestrial mammals.

Species of large wild ungulates, primates and bats are threatened primarily by unregulated or illegal hunting, according to data collected by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a nongovernmental organization.

Researchers concluded that only bold changes and political will can diminish the possibility of humans consuming many of the world’s wild mammals to the point of extinction.

An international team led by William Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University, analyzed data on the IUCN Red List to reach their findings, which were published today in Royal Society Open Science, a professional journal.

The animals at risk range from large (grey ox, Bactrian camels, bearded and warty pigs) to small (golden-capped fruit bat, black-bearded flying fox and Bulmer’s fruit bat). Hunting endangers more primate species - 126, including the lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo and many species of lemurs and monkeys - than any other group.

Populations of other species are declining and similarly threatened. Javan and black rhinoceroses, tapirs, deer, tree kangaroos, armadillos, pangolins, rodents and large carnivores are all hunted or trapped for meat, medicine, body parts, trophies or live pets.

Scientists reviewed IUCN data on 1,169 of the world’s terrestrial mammals that are listed as threatened with extinction. These animals represent 26 percent of all mammals for which data exist to determine whether or not they are endangered. 

Forests, grasslands and deserts in the developing world are now lacking many species of wild animals and becoming “empty landscapes,” the authors wrote in their study.

 The researchers suggested five broad steps for effectively addressing the threat:

  • Laws could be changed to increase penalties for poaching and illegal trafficking and to expand protected habitats for endangered mammals.
  • Property rights could be provided to communities that benefit from the presence of wildlife.
  • Food alternatives can help shift consumption to more sustainable species, especially protein-rich plant foods.
  • Education could help consumers in all countries understand the threats to mammals that are hunted or trapped.
  • Assistance in family planning could help relieve pressure on wildlife in regions where women want to delay or avoid pregnancy.

The researchers suggest that, to curb this overhunting crisis, more logistical and financial support will be needed from the richer, developed countries.

“Our analysis is conservative,” said Ripple. “These 301 species are the worst cases of declining mammal populations for which hunting and trapping are clearly identified as a major threat. If data for a species were missing or inconclusive, we didn’t include it.

“Our goal is to raise awareness of this global crisis. Many of these animals are at the brink of extinction. The illegal smuggling in wildlife and wildlife products is run by dangerous international networks and ranks among trafficking in arms, human beings and drugs in terms of profits.”

People across much of the globe depend on wild meat for part of their diets, the researchers noted. For example, they wrote, “an estimated 89,000 metric tons of meat with a market value of about $200 million are harvested annually in the Brazilian Amazon, and exploitation rates in the Congo basin are estimated to be five times higher….” Loss of these mammals could affect the livelihoods of millions of people, the researchers said.

Overhunting of mammals is concentrated, they added, in countries with poorer populations. As hunters find it harder to feed their families, it is likely they will switch to less preferred species, migrate, or suffer from malnutrition and disease.

Not all wild meat is consumed for subsistence, the researchers noted. Much of it is sold in markets and as delicacies in urban restaurants. In 2010, another team of scientists found that about five tons of bushmeat are smuggled weekly in tourist luggage through the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. 

Large carnivores and herbivores (bigger than 10 kilograms or 22 pounds) comprise a small percentage of all mammals listed but tend to be impacted more severely by overhunting, the researchers reported. By dispersing seeds and controlling smaller animals such as rodents, large animals have significant impacts on the environment.

The loss of large mammals could lead to long-lasting ecological changes, including overpopulation of prey, higher disease risks and the loss of benefits for humans, the researchers said. The scientists found that 57 species of even-toed ungulates (such as hippopotamus, wild yak, camel, marsh deer) larger than 10 kilograms are threatened by hunting.

Smaller mammals play crucial roles in dispersing seeds, pollinating plants and controlling insects. The largest group of mammals under 1 kilogram (about 2 pounds) threatened by hunting is comprised of 27 species of bats.

Ripple has led international collaborations to analyze the status and ecological effects of large animals. Co-authors on this project include researchers at Oregon State University, Stanford University, the University of California Santa Barbara and universities in Gabon, the U.K., Sweden, South Africa, Brazil and Australia.

The article on which this story is based is available online here.

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William Ripple, 541-737-3056, bill.ripple@oregonstate.edu

    

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Swiss needle cast disease intensifies in the Oregon Coast Range

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Over the last decade, a fungal disease known as Swiss needle cast has intensified within the Douglas-fir forests of the Oregon Coast Range, according to the most recent scientific surveys.

Results from aerial analyses in 2015 indicate a slight expansion, 0.6 percent, in the affected area over 2014, but it remains the most significant threat to Douglas-fir plantations in western Oregon, says David Shaw, Oregon State University forest health specialist in the College of Forestry. Shaw is director of the Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative at Oregon State, which leads efforts to understand the disease and determine how best to manage it.

Symptoms of the disease, which is native to the Northwest, have spread as much as 30 percent in one year. Caused by a fungus that reduces the growth of Douglas-fir trees, it now affects over 590,000 acres of trees in Oregon, an area more than four times larger than what was found when surveying began in 1996. The annual economic loss has been estimated at $128 million.

The fungus, Phaeocryptopus gaeumannii, doesn’t kill trees outright, but the annual growth of the most infected stands can be reduced up to 50 percent. Application of fungicides is generally not recommended. Where the disease is severe, researchers suggest planting species other than Douglas fir, such as western hemlock, western redcedar and Sitka spruce.

Scientists have reported the results in Forests, a professional journal, of two decades of aerial surveys conducted by the Oregon Department of Forestry. Researchers in the U.S. Forest Service and the Weyerhaeuser Corporation co-authored the report.

“Sustained growth losses over the previous 20 years have resulted in millions of dollars in lost timber and tax revenues,” said Gabriela Ritokova, lead author and assistant director of the Swiss Needle Cooperative. “In many cases, mid-rotation stands in the hardest hit areas have remained in an unproductive state, with managers hoping for a reprieve in disease levels.”

The pathogen disperses as tiny spores that land on Douglas-fir needles and plug needle openings that normally carry air and water into and out of the tree. Like a clogged drain, the needle loses the ability to function. Infected trees can be visually identified from the air because, in the spring, they turn slightly yellow in contrast to the deep green of healthy trees. While unaffected Douglas-fir trees often retain needles for three years or more, needles on infected trees may fall off in two years or less.

Standard forest management practices neither increase nor decrease the severity of the disease, researchers said.

“The start of the epidemic is thought to be partially the result of planting Douglas-fir that originated from seed sources outside the area being planted,” said Ritokova, who is also a faculty research assistant at Oregon State.

“The correlation between disease severity and climate factors, such as spring moisture and warm winter temperatures, raises the question of a link between disease expansion and climate change. Those factors, in combination with lots of Douglas fir and with large springtime fungal spore production, have us where we are now.”

In addition to conducting aerial flights over the Coast Range, Ritokova and her colleagues have been monitoring fungus infection in 10- to 23-year-old Douglas-fir trees in the western Cascades. Samples from 590 trees analyzed in 2001, 2006 and 2011 show that Swiss needle cast is present but, with few exceptions, is of limited concern.

Swiss needle cast was first discovered among Douglas-fir trees planted in Switzerland in the early 20th century.

The research was carried out by the Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative, a consortium of OSU, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Forestry, Stimson Lumber, Starker Forests, Cascade Timber Consultants and Weyerhaeuser Corporation. The cooperative recently completed installation of a research and monitoring plot network across western Oregon and southwest Washington to enable scientists to study disease abundance, growth impacts and climate.

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Gabriela Ritokova, 541-737-3826, gabriela.ritokova@oregonstate.edu; Dave Shaw, 541-737-2845, dave.shaw@oregonstate.edu

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Swiss needle cast symptoms from the air, near Tillamook photo Rob Flowers ODF

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Forest corridors prove critical to biodiversity and pollination success in the tropics

CORVALLIS, Ore. – As tropical forests become increasingly broken up by roads, farm fields, pastures and other developments, corridors of trees provide vital pathways for pollinators and contribute to a rich diversity of plant species, scientists have confirmed.

A study at the Las Cruces Biological Station in Costa Rica shows that when forests are linked by continuous corridors of trees, pollination has a greater likelihood of success. In contrast, when patches of forest are isolated from each other, pollinators are less abundant and plants frequently fail to reproduce.

More than 94 percent of flowering tropical plants and 75 percent of the worlds leading food crops require pollination by animals such as bees, bats and hummingbirds.

Researchers have found that forest corridors enable specialized hummingbirds that prefer such landscapes to travel longer distances from one patch of trees to another, increasing pollen exchange between forest patches. Such patches not only harbor more hummingbirds but also display greater rates of pollination than plants in areas that are isolated from each other.

These are among the results published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a technical journal, by scientists from the College of Forestry at Oregon State University and the Georg-August University Gottingen in Germany.

“This work presents tropical forest landowners with a simple, relatively inexpensive solution to enhancing biodiversity and pollination of native forest plants – connect forest patches with hedgerows and wooded corridors,” said Urs Kormann, the lead author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State. “This may complement national parks.”

“Wooded corridors remain abundant in many tropical landscapes,” said Matthew Betts, co-author and assistant professor at Oregon State. “But as agricultural land use is expanding rapidly, quick action will be required to avert the disappearance of corridor elements between fragments. Otherwise, there may substantial losses of connectivity between forest remnants, leading to accelerated biodiversity loss.”

The researchers performed field experiments and conducted observations to arrive at their findings. They measured rates of hummingbird visits to feeders and to live plants (Heliconia tortuosa) placed in forest patches. They tracked the flow of pollen from one patch to another and evaluated the presence of two groups of hummingbird species, one that prefers forested habitats and one that does not.

Simple wooded corridors can boost landscape connectivity for pollinators and animal-pollinated plants, the researchers wrote. Our findings may also apply to other organism groups that move along corridors, potentially providing other ecosystem services.

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Matt Betts, 541-737-3841; Urs Kormann, 0041-77-465-05-84 (Switzerland)

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OSU ranked third nationally in best places to study natural resources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Selina Heppell, 541-737-9039

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

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

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

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

Examples include:

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

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

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

The statewide programs will begin the hiring process this summer.

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

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

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

Insect-killed forests pose no additional likelihood of wildfire

CORVALLIS, Ore. – As mountain pine beetles and other insects chew their way through Western forests, forest fires might not seem far behind. Lands covered by dead trees appear ready to burst into flame.

However, an analysis of wildfire extent in Oregon and Washington over the past 30 years shows very little difference in the likelihood of fires in forests with and without insect damage. Indeed, other factors – drought, storms, and fuel accumulation from years of fire suppression – may be more important than insects in determining if fire is more or less likely from year to year.

Scientists reached this conclusion by mapping the locations of insect outbreaks and wildfires throughout Oregon and Washington beginning in 1970. Researchers discovered that the chances of fire in forests with extensive swaths of dead timber are neither higher nor lower than in forests without damage from mountain pine beetles.

The same comparison done on forests damaged by another insect – western spruce budworm – yields a different result. The chances of wildfire actually appear to be slightly lower where the budworm has defoliated and killed trees in the past. While the mechanics of such an association are unconfirmed, it’s possible that budworm outbreaks could reduce the risk of wildfire by consuming needles in the forest canopy.

“Our analysis suggests that wildfire likelihood does not increase following most insect outbreaks,” said Garrett Meigs, lead author of a paper published this week in the open-access journal Ecosphere. Meigs is a former Ph.D. student in the Oregon State University College of Forestry and now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Vermont.

Across more than 49 million forested acres in both states, insects and fires typically affect less than 2 percent of the land in a given year. More forestland is usually disturbed by insects than by fire.

“Most forests have plenty of fuel already,” Meigs said. “Green trees burn, not always as readily as dead ones, but they burn. The effects of insects are trumped by other factors such as drought, wind and fire management.” For example, the 2002 Biscuit Fire, the region’s largest at nearly 500,000 acres, occurred in an area with little tree damage from insects.

“Even if mountain pine beetle outbreaks do alter fuels in a way that increases flammability, the windows of opportunity are too small – and fire is too rare – for those effects to manifest at landscape and regional scales.”

“In the case of the budworm, our findings suggest that there may be a natural thinning effect of insect-caused defoliation and mortality, and it is possible that insects are doing some ‘fuel reduction’ work that managers may not need to replicate,” said Meigs. That possibility needs more research, he added.

These results are consistent with other studies that have investigated the likelihood of fire across the West. For example, a 2015 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by University of Colorado scientists found that despite extensive outbreaks of mountain pine beetles in the Rockies and the Cascades, fires in recent years were no more likely to occur in beetle-killed forests than in forests not affected by the insects.

Public perception may reflect our experience with starting campfires, said John Bailey, Oregon State professor of forestry and co-author of the Ecosphere paper.

“We choose dead and dry wood for kindling, not green branches,” Bailey pointed out. “A dead branch with lots of red needles is ideal. At the scale of a forest, however, the burning process is different. Wildland fire during severe weather conditions burns less discriminately across mountainsides.”

For managers of forestlands, these results suggest that emphasis needs to be put on fuel reduction, forests near communities and on preserving ecosystem services such as biodiversity and water quality. “Forests will continue to burn whether or not there was prior insect activity,” Meigs and his co-authors write, “and known drivers like fuel accumulation and vegetation stress likely will play a more important role in a warmer, potentially drier future.”

The Ecosphere paper is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/ES15-00037.1.

In addition to Bailey, Meigs’ co-authors included John L. Campbell, Harold S. J. Zald, David C. Shaw and Robert E. Kennedy, all of Oregon State. Funding support was provided by the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship Program and the USDA Forest Service.

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Garrett Meigs, 541-602-8167; John Bailey. 541-737-1497

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Legislature approves bonding for the Oregon Forest Science Complex

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon Legislature has approved $29.7 million in state bonding to help fund the Oregon Forest Science Complex at Oregon State University in Corvallis.

The project includes construction of a new classroom and laboratory building and a state-of-the-art advanced wood products laboratory designed to support Oregon’s manufactured wood products industry and wood building design companies. Public funds will be matched by private donations to support the $60 million initiative to modernize and expand research and teaching facilities for the OSU College of Forestry.

The centerpiece is a new 85,000 square-foot classroom and research center to support professional forestry, wood science, renewable materials and interdisciplinary natural-resource education programs. The building will replace Peavy Hall on the Corvallis campus.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown will need to sign the legislation before it becomes official.

The complex also encompasses a new 20,000 square-foot research facility dedicated to developing and testing new wood building products that could be manufactured in Oregon. The Advanced Wood Building Products Laboratory will feature a high-bay lab, computer-controlled and robotic manufacturing systems and a unique strong floor for full-scale product testing.

The project will demonstrate innovative uses of engineered wood products, such as cross-laminated timber panels that can be up to 80 feet long and a foot thick and are part of a world-wide trend in building design.

“We are transforming the educational experience for undergraduate and graduate students,” said Thomas Maness, the Cheryl Ramberg Ford and Allyn C. Ford Dean of the College of Forestry. “Our expanded research and degree programs will give students and our partners a real-life glimpse into the future of forestry and the wood products industry. We are educating a workforce to advance the competitiveness of innovative wood products manufactured in Oregon.”

Through strategic partnerships, the complex will boost applied research efforts by combining the expertise necessary to develop new wood products and materials from initial concept to design, testing and commercial application.

Students and faculty at the Oregon State College of Forestry and College of Engineering and the University of Oregon’s School of Architecture and Allied Arts will use the new facilities.

“With this project investment, the State of Oregon is doubling down to lead a new national effort to advance the science and technology of environmentally friendly wood construction,” Maness said. “We are partnering with companies in our forest products industry to bring new jobs to rural communities.”

Among the innovations already under development at Oregon State are cross-laminated timber panels, environmentally friendly adhesives, innovative connection systems that shorten construction time, and new applications of wood-based composites.

In addition to benefits for sustainability and economic development, new wood construction techniques are attracting attention from engineers and architects.

“The spaces being designed with next-generation wood building products are beautiful, inviting, and healthy places to live and work,” Maness said. “Our new home for the College of Forestry will show what can be done with wood, while creating a place that will be exciting and inspiring to our students and all Oregonians who care deeply for the future of our working forest landscapes.”

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

Geoff Huntington, 503-881-6225, geoff.huntington@oregonstate.edu

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The new building will replace the College of Forestry's Peavy Hall

OSU begins initiative for forest science complex

PORTLAND, Ore. – Oregon State University, which is internationally recognized as a leading natural resources university, has begun an initiative to build a $60 million complex to accelerate its forestry education programs and research on advanced wood products.

The Oregon Forest Science Complex will encompass renovation of existing OSU campus facilities as well as new construction; showcase innovative uses of wood in building design; and allow the College of Forestry to help meet the world’s growing demand for energy efficient, tall buildings made from sustainable building products.

The project includes a $30 million fundraising goal. Once philanthropic commitments are secured, OSU will seek matching bonds from the state. Bonding for the project was included in the governor’s capital budget for consideration in the upcoming legislative session.

The initiative was announced today in Portland at the Oregon Leadership Summit of the Oregon Business Plan, by Thomas Maness, the Cheryl Ramberg Ford and Allyn C. Ford Dean of the College of Forestry.

“We are excited about leading a new national effort to advance the science and technology necessary to primarily use wood in the construction of 5- to 20-story buildings,” Maness said. “Developing these new, competitively priced, environmentally friendly products will not only increase the value of Oregon’s natural resources, but also grow jobs in our rural communities, with substantial benefits for our state.”

Seeking new methods to reduce the carbon footprint of high-rise construction, architects and engineers from Austria to Canada, Norway and New Zealand have begun constructing buildings with exceptionally strong wood products. This “cross-laminated timber” is made of strips of wood glued together across the grain, and panels can be more than 1 foot thick and 80 feet long.

OSU already is a global leader in developing adhesives and manufacturing techniques for engineered wood products. The Oregon Forest Science Complex will boost the university’s applied research efforts with a new Advanced Wood Products Laboratory. Envisioned as a 25,000-square-foot facility, it will include computer controlled and robotic manufacturing systems, plus a pilot plant designed as a learning laboratory for students.

The project also will create a life-sized example of what can be done with advanced wood products through a renovation of the College of Forestry’s main academic facility, Peavy Hall.

“In addition to concerns about sustainability, there is a lot of interest in engineered wood construction because these spaces are beautiful, very inviting and healthy places to live and work,” Maness said. “We want to show what you can do, and create a place that will be inspiring to our students as well as industry representatives.”

New space is needed to serve OSU’s growing numbers of undergraduate and graduate forestry students. Over the last decade the College of Forestry’s enrollment has nearly doubled to about 1,000 students, and to meet high demand for trained forestry professionals, OSU plans to further increase enrollment to 2,000.

The Oregon Forest Science Complex illustrates the university’s commitment to invest in its programs of greatest distinction and potential for local and global impact, said OSU president Ed Ray.

“Sometimes people think that forestry was important for Oregon’s past but don’t realize that it remains critical to our economy today, and may become even more important in the future,” Ray said. “We are very proud of OSU’s contributions to the sector and are eager to build on this rich heritage, carrying out our mission as a 21st century land grant university.” 

Last year OSU was named the world’s seventh best university for forestry and agriculture by Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings, in a survey of more than 200 schools.

Fundraising for the Oregon Forest Science Complex will be led by the Oregon State University Foundation. The foundation recently concluded The Campaign for OSU, in which more than 106,000 donors made gifts exceeding $1.1 billion.

Fundraising efforts are now focused on targeted special initiatives that advance the university’s Strategic Plan for creating transformative student learning experiences and building on the institution’s areas of greatest strength and potential impact, such as forest science.

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Molly Brown, 541-737-3602

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Thomas Maness, 541-737-1585

Three OSU faculty members named fellows of American Geophysical Union

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Three Oregon State University faculty members have been named 2014 fellows of the American Geophysical Union. They are the only three fellows in this class from the state of Oregon.

The three selected as fellows were Edward Brook and Gary Egbert from the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences; and Beverly Law from the College of Forestry.

Brook is a paleoclimatologist who studies the Earth’s ancient climates through examination of ice cores, specializing in the history of greenhouse gases. His studies have helped explain the processes that led to large-scale climate shifts throughout Earth’s history. In 2011, he was part of a team that completed the excavation of a 10,928-foot ice core – the longest core ever drilled by United States scientists – with ice more than 67,000 years old.

Egbert is a geophysicist and oceanographer whose studies range from ocean tides to electromagnetic imaging of the solid Earth. In one pioneering study, he and his colleagues used satellite altimetry data to show that ocean tides lose significant energy over rough topography in the open ocean. These results imply that the tides may provide an important source of mechanical energy for vertical ocean mixing, and large-scale heat transport in the ocean – processes which are critical to Earth’s climate.

Law is a professor of global change biology and terrestrial systems science who examines the role of forests in the global carbon cycle, and the impacts of climate change on those forests. She was science chair of the AmeriFlux network of more than 100 research sites for 11 years, and in 2014 was listed as a “most highly cited” researcher, in the top 1 percent for the period of 2002-12. She is a principal investigator on a five-year, $4 million project studying the impacts of drought, insects and fires on western forests.

The American Geophysical Union established the AGU Fellows program in 1962, and restricts annual recognition to less than 0.1 percent of its overall membership. This year, 62 fellows were named for their scientific eminence, a major breakthrough, a major discovery, paradigm shifts and/or sustained scientific impact. They will be recognized on Dec. 17 at the annual AGU conference in San Francisco.

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Joan Buhrman, 1+ 202 777-7509, jbuhrman@agu.org

Precipitation, not warming temperatures, may be key in bird adaptation to climate change

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new model analyzing how birds in western North America will respond to climate change suggests that for most species, regional warming is not as likely to influence population trends as will precipitation changes.

Several past studies have found that temperature increases can push some animal species – including birds – into higher latitudes or higher elevations. Few studies, however, have tackled the role that changes in precipitation may cause, according to Matthew Betts, an Oregon State University ecologist and a principal investigator on the study.

“When we think of climate change, we automatically think warmer temperatures,” said Betts, an associate professor in Oregon State’s College of Forestry. “But our analysis found that for many species, it is precipitation that most affects the long-term survival of many bird species.

“It makes sense when you think about it,” Betts added. “Changes in precipitation can affect plant growth, soil moisture, water storage and insect abundance and distributions.”

Results of the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation with support from the U.S. Geological Survey and others, are being published in the journal Global Change Biology.

The researchers examined long-term data on bird distributions and abundance covering five states in the western United States, and in the Canadian province of British Columbia, testing statistical models to predict temporal changes in population of 132 bird species over a 32-year period. They analyzed the impacts of temperature and precipitation on bird distributions at the beginning of the study period (the 1970s) and then tested how well the predictions performed against actual population trends over the ensuing 30 years.

The scientists keyed in on several variables, including possible changes during the wettest month in each region, the breeding season of different species, and the driest month by area. Their model found that models including precipitation were most successful at predicting bird population trends.

“For some species, the model can predict about 80 percent of variation,” Betts said, “and for some species, it’s just a flip of the coin. But the strongest message is that precipitation is an important factor and we should pay more attention to the implications of this moving forward.”

The study incorporated a lot of complex variables into the model, including micro-climatic changes that are present in mountainous environments. The research area encompassed California to northern British Columbia and the mountain systems drive much of the changes in both temperature and precipitation.

The researchers chose December precipitation as one variable and found it to be influential in affecting bird populations.

“Someone might ask why December, since half of the bird species usually present in the Pacific Northwest, for instance, might not even be here since they’re migratory,” Betts noted. “But much of the critical precipitation is snow that falls in the winter and has a carryover effect for months later – and the runoff is what affects stream flows, plant growth and insect abundance well down the road.”

The rufous hummingbird is one species that appeared affected by changes in December precipitation, the researchers say. The species is declining across western North America at a rate of about 3 percent a year, and the model suggest it is linked to an overall drying trend in the Northwest. The evening grosbeak is similarly affected the authors say.

On the other hand, the California towhee shows a negative association with December precipitation, appears to be drought-tolerant – and its populations remain stable.

“We cannot say for certain that a change in December precipitation caused declines in evening grosbeaks or rufous hummingbirds,” said Javier Gutiérrez Illán, a former postdoctoral researcher at Oregon State and lead author on the study. “Our model shows, however, a strong association between the birds’ decline and precipitation changes and the fact that this variable pointed to actual past changes in populations gives it validity.”

“The study shows that models can predict the direction and magnitude of population changes,” he added. “This is of fundamental importance considering predictions were successful even in new locations.”

The next phase of the research is to use the model to determine if there are patterns in the sorts of species affected – for instance, birds that are migratory or non-migratory, or short- or long-lived. They also hope to test additional variables, including land use changes, wildfire impacts, competition between species and other factors.

“In general, our study suggests that if climate change results in winters with less precipitation, we likely will see a spring drying effect,” Betts said. “This means that populations of drought-tolerant species will expand and birds that rely heavily on moisture should decline.”

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Matt Betts, 541-737-3841

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