college of forestry

Oregon State research reaches record, exceeds $308 million

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon State University research funding reached $308.9 million, its highest level ever, in the fiscal year that ended on June 30. A near doubling of revenues from licensing patented technologies and an 8.5 percent increase in competitive federal funding fueled OSU research on a range of projects including advanced ocean-going research vessels, the health impacts of pollution and sustainable materials for high-speed computing.

“This is a phenomenal achievement. I've seen how OSU research is solving global problems and providing innovations that mean economic growth for Oregon and the nation,” said Cynthia Sagers, OSU’s vice president for research who undertook her duties on August 31. “OSU’s research performance in the last year is amazing, given that federal funds are so restricted right now.”

The overall economic and societal impact of OSU’s research enterprise exceeds $670 million, based on an analysis of OSU’s research contributions to the state and global economy that followed a recent economic study of OSU’s fiscal impact conducted by ECONorthwest.

Technology licensing almost doubled in the last year alone, from just under $6 million in 2014 to more than $10 million this year. Leading investments from business and industry were patented Oregon State innovations in agriculture, advanced materials and nuclear technologies.

OSU researchers exceeded the previous record of $288 million, which the university achieved in 2010. Although federal agencies provided the bulk of funding, most of the growth in OSU research revenues over the past five years stems from nonprofit organizations and industry.

Since 2010, total private-sector funding from sponsored contracts, research cooperatives and other sources has risen 60 percent — from $25 million to more than $40 million in 2015. Oregon State conducts research with multinationals such as HP, Nike and Boeing as well as with local firms such as Benchmade Knife of Oregon City, Sheldon Manufacturing of Cornelius and NuScale Power of Corvallis.

By contrast, federal research grants in 2015 were only 0.2 percent higher than those received in 2010, a year in which American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds gave university research a one-time shot in the arm across the country. According to the National Science Foundation, federal agency obligations for research have dropped from a high of $36 billion in 2009 to $29 billion in 2013, the last year for which cumulative figures are available. The Department of Health and Human Services accounted for more than half of that spending.

“We’ve worked hard to diversify our research portfolio,” said Ron Adams, who retired as interim vice president for research at the end of August. “But it’s remarkable that our researchers have succeeded in competing for an increase in federal funding. This speaks to the success of our strategic initiatives and our focus on clusters of excellence.”

Economic impact stems in part from new businesses launched this year through the Oregon State University Advantage program. Among them are:

  •  OnBoard Dynamics, a Bend company designing a natural-gas powered vehicle engine that can be fueled from home
  •  Valliscor, a Corvallis company that manufactures ultra-pure chemicals
  • eChemion, a Corvallis company that develops and markets technology to extend battery life

Altogether, 15 new companies have received mentoring assistance from Oregon State’s Advantage Accelerator program, part of the state-funded Regional Accelerator and Innovation Network, or RAIN. Six new companies are working with the Advantage program this fall.

Additional economic impact stems from the employment of students, post-doctoral researchers and faculty. According to the OSU Research Office, about a quarter of OSU undergraduates participate in research projects, many with stipends paid by grant funds. In addition, grants support a total of 843 graduate research positions and 165 post-doctoral researchers.

The College of Agricultural Sciences received the largest share of research grants at Oregon State with $49.4 million last year, followed by the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at $39 million and the College of Engineering at $37 million. The College of Science saw a 170 percent increase in research funding to $26.7 million, its largest total ever and the biggest rise among OSU colleges. Among the largest grants received in FY15 were:

  •  $8 million from the NSF to the Center for Sustainable Materials Chemistry (College of Science) for new high-speed information technologies
  •  $4 million from the Department of Energy to reduce barriers to the deployment of ocean energy systems (College of Engineering)
  •  $4 million from US Agency for International Development to the AquaFish Innovation Lab (College of Agricultural Sciences) for global food security
  •  $3.5 million from the USDA for experiential learning to reduce obesity (College of Public Health and Human Sciences)
  •  $2.3 million from the NSF for the ocean observing initiative (College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences)
  •  $1.5 million from the U.S. Department of Education for school readiness in early childhood (OSU Cascades)


Editor’s Note: FY15 research totals for OSU colleges and OSU-Cascades are posted online.

College of Agricultural Sciences: http://agsci.oregonstate.edu/story/osu%E2%80%99s-college-agricultural-sciences-receives-494-million-research-grants 

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences: http://ceoas.oregonstate.edu/features/funding/

College of Education: http://education.oregonstate.edu/research-and-outreach 

College of Engineering:  http://engineering.oregonstate.edu/fy15-research-funding-highlights

College of Forestry: http://www.forestry.oregonstate.edu/research/college-forestry-receives-near-record-grant-awards-fy-2015

College of Liberal Arts: http://liberalarts.oregonstate.edu/cla-research/2015-research-summary

College of Pharmacy: http://pharmacy.oregonstate.edu/grant_information

College of Public Health and Human Sciences: http://health.oregonstate.edu/research 

College of Science: http://impact.oregonstate.edu/2015/08/record-year-for-research-funding/

College of Veterinary Medicine: http://vetmed.oregonstate.edu/research-highlights

OSU-Cascades: http://osucascades.edu/research-and-scholarship 

Media Contact: 

Cynthia Sagers, vice president for research, 541-737-0664; Rich Holdren on OSU research trends, 541-737-8390; Brian Wall on business spinoffs and commercialization, 541-737-9058

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Surface chemistry research

Masters students at OSU worked to improve the performance of thin-film transistors used in liquid crystal displays. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)

OOI mooring

The Oregon shelf surface mooring is lowered to the water using the R/V Oceanus ship's crane. (photo courtesy of Oregon State University). Wave Energy

The Ocean Sentinel, a wave energy testing device, rides gentle swells near Newport, Ore. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University) Hernandez3-2

An undergraduate student at the Autonomous Juarez University of Tabasco, Mexico, is working with cage culture of cichlids in an educational partnership with the AquaFish collaborative Support Program. (Photo: Tiffany Woods)

Global water analysis re-thinks key part of the hydrologic cycle

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A global analysis of how water moves through the ground and is taken up by plants may overturn the way scientists understand a key part of the hydrologic cycle.

It has been assumed for more than a century that once water enters the ground, it becomes part of a well-mixed pool. From there, the theory goes, water flows into groundwater below, remains trapped in soil particles, or is withdrawn from the soil and sent back into the air by plants.

However, by analyzing the chemical signatures of water at 47 sites on six continents, researchers have discovered that the notion of a well-mixed pool in the ground is wrong. In fact, they report in a letter in this week’s edition of the journal Nature, water in plants comes from a compartment in the soil that is separate and disconnected from water that flows elsewhere.

“This is a new interpretation of the hydrologic cycle,” said Jeff McDonnell, co-author and a courtesy professor in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. McDonnell is the former Richardson Chair in Watershed Science at Oregon State and a professor and associate director of the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan.

The findings are based on analyses of chemical isotopes — different versions of an element — of hydrogen and oxygen at locations representing tropical and temperate environments including forests, grasslands and deserts. The work builds on previous research that McDonnell published with colleagues at Oregon State and at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (led by Renee Brooks) in Corvallis.

If they are confirmed, the findings would require revision of computer models that are used for irrigation, in-stream flows and climate analysis as well as for other purposes, said lead author Jaivime Evaristo, a Ph.D. student working with McDonnell at Saskatchewan. “All existing models of water flows — many, if not most of which, are being used in a wide range of water resource management purposes — are predicated on the assumption that the waters underneath our feet are well mixed, as though they are in one, huge tank,” said Evaristo. 

It is not yet known what the implications will be for water management practices in forested watersheds or on farms. The work suggests that trees do not use water that would otherwise make it to streams that serve towns and cities. In addition, knowing that plants have a preference for taking water from some parts of the hydrologic cycle and not others may affect the way fertilizers are applied to farmland.

“Fast flowing water and all that is dissolved in it will eventually recharge the ground and make its way into the streams. Nutrients (from fertilizers) will only be useful for plants if they are retained by the soil,” said Evaristo. “Down the line, this new knowledge will translate into redefining how we view and model water flows for practical purposes.”

Media Contact: 

Jeffrey McDonnell, 306-966-8529

Jaivime Evaristo, 306-966-2828

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Mack Creek

Mack Creek flows through the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest east of Eugene, Oregon. (Photo: Tom Iraci)

Regulatory, certification systems creating paralysis in use of genetically altered trees

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Myriad regulations and certification requirements around the world are making it virtually impossible to use genetically engineered trees to combat catastrophic forest threats, according to a new policy analysis published this week in the journal Science.


In the United States, the time is ripe to consider regulatory changes, the authors say, because the federal government recently initiated an update of the overarching Coordinated Framework for the Regulation of Biotechnology, which governs use of genetic engineering.


North American forests are suffering from an onslaught of threats including local and imported pests, as well as the impacts of a shifting climate. These threats pose “a real and present danger” to the future of many of our forest trees, notes Steven Strauss, a distinguished professor of forest biotechnology at Oregon State University and lead author on the analysis.


“The forest health crisis we’re facing makes it clear that regulations and certification policies must change to consider catastrophic losses that could be mitigated by using advanced forest biotechnologies, including genetic engineering,” Strauss said. “With the precision enabled by new advances in genetic engineering – and their ability to make changes more rapidly and with less disruption to natural tree genetics than hybrid breeding methods – they can provide an important new tool.”


In their analysis, Strauss and coauthors Adam Costanza, of the Institute of Forest Biosciences in Cary, North Carolina, and Armand Séguin of Natural Resources Canada in Quebec, argue that new regulatory approaches should be implemented in the United States and globally that focus on the product, not the process – and consider need, urgency and genetic similarity of modifications to those used in breeding.


The researchers note the striking discrepancy between the speed at which pests and changing climates are affecting trees and modifying both natural and planted forests, and the onerous and slow pace of modifications to certification policies and regulatory review of genetically engineered trees that could be used to help fight these threats.


“If we have a technology that can help stop a forest health crisis, we should also have a regulatory system that can respond in a time frame that can make a difference, and certification policies that do not impede such efforts,” said Costanza, who is president of the non-profit Institute of Forest Biosciences.


All major sustainable certification systems for forestry ban genetically engineered trees and will not certify any land as sustainable if genetically engineered trees are grown at all – even if the trees are being used solely for research or are designed to help stop a forest threat.


The authors stress that they are not advocating for separate regulations for genetically engineered trees. Rather, they call for an approach that would give agencies the option to fast-track field research for products intended to address forest health problems or that use methods that modify natural genes and thus are comparable in scope to those of conventional breeding.


“Obviously, these changes will take time and require wide-ranging input,” said Strauss, a professor in OSU’s College of Forestry, “but we need to start now. We depend on forests for so many ecological, social and economic values – and all of these are being threatened.”

Media Contact: 

Steven Strauss, 541-737-6578, steve.strauss@oregonstate.edu 

Media advisory: Oregon State wildfire experts


The following Oregon State University faculty members have expertise related to wildfire issues and are willing to speak with journalists. Their specific expertise, and contact information, is listed below.  For help with other OSU faculty experts, contact Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788, mark.floyd@oregonstate.edu.

OSU wildfire experts

John Bailey, 541-737-1497, john.bailey@oregonstate.edu

Bailey studies the role of forest management in accomplishing landowner objectives, including fire resilience, habitat and restoration. His areas of expertise include:

  • Fuels management for fire risk reduction
  • Wildland fire ecology
  • Prescribed fire

Stephen Fitzgerald, 541-737-3562, stephen.fitzgerald@oregonstate.edu

Amy Jo Detweiler, 541-548-6088, amyjo.detweiler@oregonstate.edu

Detweiler and Fitzgerald are faculty members in the OSU Extension Service and co-authors of a publication, Fire-Resistant Plants for Home Landscapes, published in 2006 and due to be updated next year. They can discuss ways for homeowners to reduce fire risk to their homes.

  • Types of shrubs and trees that are less likely to burn
  • Maintenance tips for fire resistant plantings
  • Bark mulches and other ground covers
  • Fuel reduction around homes


Beverly Law, 541-737-6111, bev.law@oregonstate.edu

Law is a professor in the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society and former Science Chair of the Ameriflux network. She studies carbon and water cycling in ecosystems and exchange with the atmosphere, including the forests of the Pacific Northwest. She has focused on, among other topics, the role of fire in the carbon cycle. She can comment on:

  • Modeling ecosystem responses to disturbances such as fire and insects
  • The effects of climate change, fire and forest management on carbon and water cycles
  • The combination of remote sensing and field observations to understand regional ecosystem processes


Claire Montgomery, 541-737-1362, claire.montgomery@oregonstate.edu

Montgomery studies the economic implications of fire management decisions, from the initial determination whether to let a fire burn or to put it out. She can address the likely impacts of fire management decisions on the value of timber and other forest resources in the future.

  • Incentives for cost-effective wildland fire management
  • Community considerations of forest fuel treatments
  • The opportunity costs of fire suppression


Roger Hammer, 541-760-1009, rhammer@oregonstate.edu

Hammer is a professor in the School of Public Policy and studies the interface between communities and undeveloped lands such as forests. He studies strategies to mitigate fire risk in the face of urban development. He can comment on:

  • U.S. demographic trends at the urban-wildland interface
  • Fire risk and development at the urban-wildland interface
  • New construction after a fire

Kathie Dello, 541-737-8927, kdello@coas.oregonstate.edu

Dello is the deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service and associate director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute. She studies Pacific Northwest weather patterns and compiles reports for use by businesses and government agencies. She can comment on weather patterns as they influence fire risk, including:

  • Long-term trends in Pacific Northwest weather
  • The impact of landscape features (mountains, forests) on weather
  • Weather data collection by citizens


Compiled by Nick Houtman

541-737-0783, nick.houtman@oregonstate.edu

Media Contact: 

Nick Houtman, 541-737-0783

Rising fossil fuel energy costs spell trouble for global food security

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Ongoing efforts to feed a growing global population are threatened by rising fossil-fuel energy costs and breakdowns in transportation infrastructure. Without new ways to preserve, store, and transport food products, the likelihood of shortages looms in the future.

In an analysis of food preservation and transportation trends published in this week’s issue of the journal BioScience, scientists warn that new sustainable technologies will be needed for humanity just to stay even in the arms race against the microorganisms that can rapidly spoil the outputs of the modern food system.

“It is mostly a race between the capacity of microbe populations to grow on human foodstuffs and evolve adaptations to changing conditions and the capacity of humans to come up with new technologies for preserving, storing, and transporting food,” wrote lead author Sean T. Hammond, a postdoctoral researcher and interdisciplinary ecologist in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University.

Hammond developed the analysis with colleagues at the University of New Mexico, Arizona State University and Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Morelos in Mexico.

The authors note that increased energy use in food-preservation systems does not always prolong shelf life. For example, drying and canning tend to use less energy than freezing, which requires ongoing energy consumption. Moreover, as cities expand and food is produced by fewer people, dependence grows on fossil-fuel transportation systems. The cargo ships, trucks and trains that carry most of the world’s food run almost exclusively on oil.

“Getting food from the field to your table is a matter of production, storage and transportation,” said Hammond. “It sounds trivial to say that, but if there’s a problem with any of those – a drought, problems with roads or problems keeping foods cool and dry for storage during transport – the system breaks down and people starve.

“More people moving to cities means there are fewer people working to produce food, which means we need to use more energy in the form of machinery to grow and harvest things,” Hammond noted. “Problems with bridges, rail and port infrastructure increase the time needed to transport food and lead to even more energy needed to keep food from spoiling while it is transported.”

Technological advances in preservation and transportation systems have improved the diversity and nutritional qualities of food over what was available to pre-industrial societies. Nevertheless, it’s been estimated that up to 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is lost or wasted. The estimate is lower in developing countries, about 10 percent, due to different diets and cultural norms.

In their analysis, Hammond and his colleagues considered the growth of microorganisms on food products as temperatures increase in storage; the shelf life of foods such as fish, potatoes, strawberries and wheat; the amounts of energy used in preservation methods; and historical advances in the transportation of different foodstuffs.

“As humans push up against the limits of the finite Earth,” they wrote, “food security is a major concern.” To meet future needs, decreasing numbers of farmers, ranchers and fishermen will need to become more efficient and productive. In short, they will need to produce more food per acre and use less fossil-fuel energy, Hammond and his co-authors write.

Innovations that use other energy sources will be required in preservation, storage and transportation systems. The issue is particularly acute in tropical areas where higher average temperatures and humidity translate into faster rates of food spoilage than in temperate climates.

“We can transport any food, even foods that spoil quickly like fish or fruits, to any point on the surface of the planet before it goes bad,” Hammond said. “That’s pretty amazing, but I think we need to question whether we should. Maybe the local-food movement is less of a trend in modern society and more of a necessity.”

Researchers conducting the analysis received support from the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and the James S. McDonnell Foundation.

Media Contact: 

Sean T. Hammond, 415-828-1674

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Sean T. Hammond

Box figure-300 copy
Illustration by Trevor Fristoe

Scientists release predatory flies to protect eastern hemlocks from insect attack

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists say that a West Coast fly no bigger than a grain of rice may hold the key to survival of a tree that is being devastated by an invasive insect.

The eastern hemlock grows from the Carolinas to Quebec and is threatened by the hemlock woolly adelgid, which is native to Asia and the Pacific Northwest. Through nearly a decade of research, scientists at Oregon State University and the USDA Forest Service have identified a predatory fly that kills the adelgid and may help to curb infestations.

In the southern Appalachians, hemlocks have been particularly hard hit, including a less-abundant species known as Carolina hemlock. As much as 80 to 90 percent of the mature trees in some stands have been killed. Researchers believe that without intervention, they could suffer the same fate as the American chestnut – a once-common eastern tree that was nearly wiped out by a fungal disease in the early 1900s.

A research team led by two entomologists – Darrell Ross in the Oregon State College of Forestry and Kimberly Wallin with the University of Vermont and the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station – demonstrated that a type of fly in the Pacific Northwest known as a silver fly (species in the genus Leucopis) attacks adelgids on western and eastern hemlocks. And while silver flies in the East are known to prey on a species of adelgids in pine trees, those flies are not known to be attracted to hemlocks.

“Populations of flies in the West search for hemlock trees, and that’s where they find their hosts,” said Ross. “The same species in the East has evolved to look for pine trees. They probably use chemical cues from those trees to find their habitat and their hosts. That’s why it’s useful to take the flies from out here, because they’ll look for hemlock trees and feed on the hemlock woolly adelgid in the East.”

This past spring, scientists with the USDA Forest Service, the University of Vermont and Cornell University released silver flies from the Pacific Northwest in hemlock stands near Grandview, Tennessee, and along the shore of Skaneateles Lake in New York state. The researchers are monitoring the trees for evidence that the flies can successfully reproduce and prey on hemlock woolly adelgids. Early results indicate that the flies are mating, laying eggs and producing larvae that are growing to the adult stage.

“That is as good as we could have hoped for at this point,” said Ross. “It remains to be seen whether they will survive and if their populations will grow to densities that significantly impact the hemlock woolly adelgid populations and, ultimately, the survival of eastern hemlocks. We probably won't have answers to those questions for a year or two.”

“We don’t hope that the flies will eradicate all the adelgids,” added Wallin, but if they could provide a check on the pest’s population size and territorial expansion, it could allow some hemlocks to persist and recover.

The releases were done under a permit from the Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Forest Service scientist Albert “Bud” Mayfield and Extension researcher Mark Whitmore of Cornell led the release effort in Tennessee and New York respectively.

“It’s been a decade’s worth of research, first identifying the flies and then looking at their host breadth and then seeing if they would feed on the eastern hemlock woolly adelgid,” said Ross. “Now it’s a matter of waiting and seeing if they significantly contribute to controlling adelgid populations.”

In the West, adelgids and the silver flies that feed on them are difficult to find in the forest. “Where we find them is on street trees and in peoples’ yards and city parks,” said Ross. The Oregon State scientist travels to Washington state to collect silver flies on western hemlocks. He sends boxes of infested branches to Nathan Havill, a Forest Service entomologist in Hamden, Connecticut. In Havill’s lab, research technician Arielle Arsenault rears, collects and sorts the insects in growth chambers before they are released into the wild.

Although some species of adelgids are native to North America and do not pose a threat, the hemlock woolly adelgid currently present in the eastern United States is from East Asia. In the late 1970s, as infestations in Appalachian hemlock stands grew increasingly severe, scientists were unsure about the insect’s origins. In the early 2000s, Havill used genetic techniques to demonstrate that it had been introduced from southern Japan to the vicinity of Richmond, Virginia, in the 1950s.

He also showed that it is native to the Pacific Northwest. There, the insects appear to be controlled by silver flies and possibly by other predators as well.

Other researchers contributing to the project are Ross’ former OSU graduate students Glenn R. Kohler and Sarah M. Grubin. They received assistance from a leading taxonomic expert in silver flies, Stephen D. Gaimari of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Their reports have appeared in Environmental Entomology and other professional journals.

Funding for the research was provided by the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid Initiative of the USDA Forest Service.

Media Contact: 

Darrell Ross, 541-737-6566; Kimberly Wallin, 802-656-2517

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Kimberly releasing in a bag 2 TN release
Kimberly Wallin
hwa on west hemlock
Hemlock woolly adelgids on a hemlock branch
cham larva 9 11-026
Silver fly larvae feed on adelgid eggs

Global decline of large herbivores may lead to an “empty landscape,” scientists say

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The decline of the world’s large herbivores, especially in Africa and parts of Asia, is raising the specter of an “empty landscape” in some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, according to a newly published study.

Many populations of animals such as rhinoceroses, zebras, camels, elephants and tapirs are diminishing or threatened with extinction in grasslands, savannahs, deserts and forests, scientists say.

An international team of wildlife ecologists led by William Ripple, Oregon State University distinguished professor in the College of Forestry, conducted a comprehensive analysis of data on the world’s largest herbivores (more than 100 kilograms, or 220 pounds, on average), including endangerment status, key threats and ecological consequences of population decline. They published their observations today in Science Advances, the open-access online journal of Science magazine.

The authors focused on 74 large herbivore species – animals that subsist on vegetation – and concluded that “without radical intervention, large herbivores (and many smaller ones) will continue to disappear from numerous regions with enormous ecological, social, and economic costs.” Ripple initiated the study after conducting a global analysis of large-carnivore decline, which goes hand-in-hand, he said, with the loss of their herbivore prey.

“I expected that habitat change would be the main factor causing the endangerment of large herbivores,” Ripple said. “But surprisingly, the results show that the two main factors in herbivore declines are hunting by humans and habitat change. They are twin threats.”

The scientists refer to an analysis of the decline of animals in tropical forests published in the journal BioScience in 1992. The author, Kent H. Redford, then a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Florida, first used the term “empty forest.” While soaring trees and other vegetation may exist, he wrote, the loss of forest fauna posed a long-term threat to those ecosystems. 

Ripple and his colleagues went a step further. “Our analysis shows that it goes well beyond forest landscapes," he said, “to savannahs and grasslands and deserts. So we coin a new term, the empty landscape.” As a group, terrestrial herbivores encompass about 4,000 known species and live in many types of ecosystems on every continent except Antarctica.

The highest numbers of threatened large herbivores live in developing countries, especially Southeast Asia, India and Africa, the scientists report. Only one endangered large herbivore lives in Europe (the European bison), and none are in North America, which, the authors add, has “already lost most of its large mammals” through prehistoric hunting and habitat changes.

The authors note that 25 of the largest wild herbivores now occupy an average of only 19 percent of their historical ranges. Competition from livestock production, which has tripled globally since 1980, has reduced herbivore access to land, forage and water and raised disease transmission risks, they add.

Meanwhile, herbivore hunting occurs for two major purposes, the authors note: meat consumption and the global trade in animal parts. An estimated 1 billion humans subsist on wild meat, they write.

“The market for medicinal uses can be very strong for some body parts, such as rhino horn,” said Ripple. “Horn sells for more by weight than gold, diamonds or cocaine.” Africa’s western black rhinoceros was declared extinct in 2011.

Co-author Taal Levi, an assistant professor in Oregon State’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, said the causes of the decline of some large herbivores “are difficult to remedy in a world with increasing human populations and consumption.”

“But it's inconceivable that we allow demand for horns and tusks to drive the extirpation of large herbivores from otherwise suitable habitat,” Levi said. “We need to intensify the reduction of demand for such items.”

The loss of large herbivores suggests that other parts of wild ecosystems will diminish, the authors write. The likely consequences include: reduction in food for large carnivores such as lions and tigers; diminished seed dispersal for plants; more frequent and intense wildfires; slower cycling of nutrients from vegetation to the soil; changes in habitat for smaller animals including fish, birds and amphibians.

“We hope this report increases appreciation for the importance of large herbivores in these ecosystems,” said Ripple. “And we hope that policymakers take action to conserve these species.”

To understand the consequences of large herbivore decline, the authors call for a coordinated research effort focusing on threatened species in developing countries. In addition, solutions to the decline of large herbivores need to involve local people. “It is essential that local people be involved in and benefit from the management of protected areas,” they write. “Local community participation in the management of protected areas is highly correlated with protected area policy compliance.”

In addition to Ripple and Levi, co-authors include Christopher Wolf and Luke Painter of Oregon State; Rodolfo Dirzo of Stanford University; Thomas M. Newsome of The University of Sydney in Australia; Kristoffer T. Everatt and Graham I.H. Kerley of Nelson Mandela University in South Africa; Mauro Galetti of the Universisade Estadual Paulista in Brazil; Matt W. Hayward of Nelson Mandela University and Bangor University in the United Kingdom; Peter A. Lindsey of Panthera (nonprofit organization) and the University of Pretoria in South Africa; David W. MacDonald, Yadvinder Malhi and Christopher J. Sandom of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom; John Terborgh of Duke University; Blaire Van Valkenburgh of UCLA.


Media Contact: 

William Ripple, 541-737-3056

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Eastern gorilla by Peter Stoel
Eastern Gorilla
African elephant by Kristopher Everatt
African elephant
Black rhino GFRNR 2009 G Kerley
Western black rhinoceros

Lowland tapir by Thomas Newsome
Lowland tapir
Mountain Nyala by Halszka Hrabar
Mountain nyala
Mountain zebraHalszka Hrabar
Mountain zebra
The threatened European bison, Bison bonasus. Photo by Graham Kerley.
European bison
 Common hippopotamus by Kristopher Everatt
Common hippopotomus HerbivoreIllustration

Illustration of herbivore impacts

Cascades study may rewrite the textbook on forest growth and death

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A century-long study in the Oregon Cascades may cause scientists to revise the textbook on how forests grow and die, accumulate biomass and store carbon.

In a new analysis of forest succession in three Douglas-fir stands in the Willamette National Forest, two Oregon State University scientists report that biomass – a measure of tree volume – has been steadily accumulating for 150 years. In the long term, such a trend is not sustainable, they said, and if these stands behave in a manner similar to others in the Cascades, trees will begin to die from causes such as insect outbreaks, windstorms or fire.

“Mortality will occur in the future,” said Mark Harmon, professor and Richardson Chair in Forest Science at OSU. “It just hasn’t arrived.”

In 1910, pioneering forest scientist Thornton T. Munger established the research plots in stands that had, by that time, been recovering from a wildfire for about 50 years. Growth and mortality were measured in the plots every five years until 1955 and again starting in 1992.

Scientists generally treat mortality as a phenomenon that occurs at an average rate over many years, said Harmon. However, results from these stands show that mortality can proceed slowly for many years and then increase rapidly in sudden pulses.

Harmon and Rob Pabst, forestry research assistant at OSU, published their findings recently in the Journal of Vegetation Science.

“The way we have thought about mortality is wrong,” said Harmon, who is conducting long-term monitoring at 10 stands in the Cascades. “When we started measuring mortality, our goal was to come up with a long-term average, but it became clear that that’s misleading because its very nature is variable.”

After a disturbance such as a fire or a clear-cut harvest, “it takes a while for the machinery in the forest to get going,” Harmon said. “And then it starts to increase biomass and hits a point where a lot of the biomass isn’t being removed by tree death. But we know there are episodes of mortality: beetle kills, fire, wind storms.”

Continuous accumulation of biomass over many centuries is not realistic, he added. If the tree stands they analyzed were to continue to accumulate biomass over the next 200 years, they wrote, biomass would reach world-record levels, far exceeding “what has been observed in old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest.”

“There must be some event waiting in the future that will knock them down,” Harmon said. “Whether that will become more frequent in the future because of climate change or something else, I don’t know.”

The findings have practical implications for management of public and private forestlands. For timber production purposes, it has been common practice to harvest trees at regular intervals, usually when the rate of biomass accumulation reaches a high point. In Douglas-fir forests, that interval is often 50 to 70 years.

However, since the stands in Harmon and Pabst’s study have continued to accumulate biomass steadily for 150 years, the optimum harvest cycle may be considerably longer than 50 years. It is likely, they wrote, that some Douglas-fir forests have been harvested many decades before they reached a point when the rate of biomass accumulation slowed.

The findings also suggest that these forests can continue to sequester carbon from the atmosphere well past typical harvest intervals. “While we suspect that live biomass accumulation will eventually slow down and perhaps cease, this is likely to occur many decades in the future, barring a major disturbance in these plots,” they wrote. “This implies substantially more live carbon can be accumulated in this type of forest if harvest rotations are extended past the 50- to 100-year age.”

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Pacific Northwest Research Station of the USDA Forest Service. The paper is available online (http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jvs.12273/full).

Media Contact: 

Mark Harmon, 541-737-8455

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Pioneering forest scientist T. T. Munger established long-term monitoring stands in the Oregon Cascades in 1910.

Satellites give scientists unprecedented views of insect outbreaks in forests

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists for the first time have simultaneously compared widespread impacts from two of the most common forest insects in the West – mountain pine beetle and western spruce budworm – an advance that could lead to more effective management policies.

By combining data from satellites, airplanes and ground-based crews, the researchers have shown in unprecedented detail how insects affect Western forests over decades.

In the past, forest managers relied on airplane surveys to evaluate insect damage over broad areas. However, satellites can reveal patterns at a much finer scale. By combining both types of data, scientists are refining estimates of damage and showing how they may relate to other factors that determine forest structure and composition.

“This is the first time anyone has compared the impacts from these two insects in consistent units of change going all the way back to 1970,” said Garrett Meigs, a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Vermont. Meigs conducted his analysis while he was a Ph.D. student in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. He worked with Robert Kennedy, an expert in landscape analysis and an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

They published their findings in this week’s issue of Forest Ecology and Management, a professional journal.

Outbreaks of both insects occur in cycles and can affect millions of acres of forest lands from year to year. The mountain pine beetle has killed lodgepole pine trees across much of western Canada and the United States in recent decades. Western spruce budworm defoliates – but does not normally kill – Douglas-fir, spruce and true firs. However, repeated years of western spruce budworm attack can weaken trees and make them vulnerable to other stresses, which may eventually kill them.

“Mortality from bark beetles is only the beginning of long-term change,” said Helen Maffei, a U.S. Forest Service scientist in Bend, Oregon, who supported the study. “Dead trees fall and decay, and forest regrowth begins and continues over many decades. This new technique can help us understand not only how insect outbreaks are initiated and spread but also address the question, ‘What comes next’? It can help us better understand the process of recovery.”

The new method of using satellites, aerial surveys and forest inventory data enables scientists to identify hotspots of insect activity that may need special attention from forest managers in the future.

“By blending the richness of the Forest Service data with the robustness of the satellite signal, I think we have a really useful new approach to understanding insect patterns on the landscape,” said Kennedy.

The new methods aren’t yet available to businesses, government agencies and other organizations, but through a partnership between Oregon State and Google, that may change. Kennedy is working with the company to use satellite data and new analytical procedures in a system that would be accessible to land managers. The system will be freely available on Google’s Earth Engine, a platform for planetary data and analysis.

“If successful, it would mean that agencies could begin working with the satellite data and potentially take the next step in merging with the Forest Service observation data directly,” said Kennedy.

The report is online in OSU’s Scholar’s Archive, http://hdl.handle.net/1957/55196. Support was provided by the NASA Earth and Space Science Fellowship Program and the USDA Forest Service.

Media Contact: 

Garrett Meigs, 541-602-8167

Robert Kennedy, 541-737-6332

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Mountain pine beetle larvae borrow under bark.


Mountain pine beetle damaged forests in the Oregon Cascades.


Trees defoliated by western spruce budworm in Washington.

OSU’s Starker Lecture Series to focus on Douglas-fir

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s annual Starker Lecture Series will focus this year on the Pacific Northwest’s most iconic tree – the Douglas-fir – which had its first major planting 100 years ago.

The series is hosted by the OSU College of Forestry. It kicks off on Thursday, Jan. 29, with a screening of the documentary, “Finding David Douglas.”

The film, which looks at the 19th-century Scottish botanist’s compelling life of adventure and discovery, begins at 7 p.m. at the Whiteside Theatre in Corvallis, located at 361 S.W. Madison Ave. Director and historian Lois Leonard will be on hand for a discussion with the audience after the film. The event is free and open to the public.

On Thursday, Feb. 5, a workshop will be held on “Objectives-Driven Silviculture” at the Linn County Expo Center, located at 3700 Knox Butte Rd. in Albany. The workshop is sponsored by the Mary’s Peak Chapter of the Society of American Foresters.

Free public lectures in the series include:

  • Feb. 12 - “Every Reason to Hope: David Douglas and Pacific Northwest Trees,” by Jack Nisbet, author of a book on the botanist titled “David Douglas: The Collector and Naturalist at Work.” 3 p.m. Richardson Hall Room 107. A book signing will follow. OSU professor emeritus Richard Hermann will sign copies of a new book, “Douglas-fir: The Genus Pseudotsuga,” which he co-authored with OSU professor emeritus Denis Lavender.
  • March 12 – “A Contemporary View of Douglas-fir Silviculture,” by Chad Oliver, the Pinchot Professor of Forestry and Environment and director of the Global Institute of Sustainable Forests. 3:30 p.m. Richardson Hall Room 107.
  • April 16 – “Innovative Applications of Douglas-fir in Building Design,” by Ethan Martin, Northwest regional director of WoodWorks, an initiative of the Wood Products Council. 3:30 p.m. Richardson Hall Room 107.

On Thursday, May 14, the series will conclude with a capstone field trip where participants will tour managed forests, a wood products research and testing lab, and a commercial processing facility, as well as learn about new architectural uses for wood.

The Starker Lecture Series is sponsored by the Starker family in memory of T.J. and Bruce Starker, prominent leaders in the development of the Oregon forest products industry. The series is also supported by the OSU College of Forestry and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.

More information on the series is available at http://starkerlectures.forestry.oregonstate.edu

Media Contact: 

OSU College of Forestry, 541-737-2004