OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

“Eve” and descendants shape global sperm whale population structure

NEWPORT, Ore. – Although sperm whales have not been driven to the brink of extinction as have some other whales, a new study has found a remarkable lack of diversity in the maternally inherited mitochondrial DNA within the species.

In fact, the mitochondrial DNA from more than a thousand sperm whales examined during the past 15 years came from a single “Eve” sperm whale tens of thousands of years ago, the researchers say.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Molecular Ecology.

While the exact origins of this sperm whale “Eve” remain uncertain, the study shows the importance of her female descendants in shaping global population structure, according to Alana Alexander, a University of Kansas Biodiversity Institute researcher who conducted the study while a doctoral student at Oregon State University.

“Although the male sperm whale is more famous in literature and cinema through ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘In the Heart of the Sea,’ the patterns in mitochondrial DNA show that female sperm whales are shaping genetic differentiation by sticking close to home,” Alexander said.

Working in the genetic lab of Scott Baker, associate director of Oregon State’s Marine Mammal Institute, Alexander combined DNA information from 1,091 previously studied samples with 542 newly obtained DNA profiles from sperm whales. The new samples were part of a global sampling of sperm whale populations made possible by the Ocean Alliance’s “Voyage of the Odyssey,” a five-and-a-half year circumnavigation of the globe, including some of the most remote regions of the world.

The new sampling, including sperm whales from the previously un-sampled Indian Ocean, revealed global patterns of genetic differentiation and diversity.

“Sperm whales have been in the fossil record for some 20 million years,” said Baker, a co-author on the study, “so the obvious question is how one maternal lineage could be so successful that it sweeps through the global population and no other lineages survive? At this point, we can only speculate about the reasons for this success, but evolutionary advances in feeding preferences and social strategies are plausible explanations.”

The researchers say female sperm whales demonstrate strong fidelity to local areas, and both feeding habits and social structure are important to determine to better manage the species. “There is a real risk of long-term declines in response to current anthropogenic threats, despite the sperm whale’s large worldwide population,” the authors wrote.

“One concern is that this very strong local fidelity may slow expansion of the species following whaling,” said Baker, a professor of fisheries and wildlife who works at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. “The Sri Lanka sperm whales, for example, don’t seem to mix with the Maldives whales, thus local anthropogenic threats could have a negative impact on local populations.”

The researchers note that while males are important for describing patterns in the nuclear DNA of sperm whales, ultimately the females shape the patterns within the species’ mitochondrial DNA.

“Although there is low mitochondrial DNA diversity there are strong patterns of differentiation, which implies that the global population structure in the sperm whale is shaped by females being ‘home-bodies’ – at the social group, regional and oceanic level,” Alexander said.

The study was funded by a Mamie Markham Award and a Lylian Brucefield Reynolds Award from the Hatfield Marine Science Center; a 2008-11 International Fulbright Science & Technology award to Alexander; and co-funded by the ASSURE program of the Department of Defense in partnership with the National Science Foundation REU Site program. Publication of the paper was supported in part by the Thomas G. Scott Publication Fund.

Other authors include Debbie Steel of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute; Kendra Hoekzema, OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife; Sarah Mesnick, NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center; Daniel Engelhaupt, HDR Inc.; and Iain Kerr and Roger Payne, Ocean Alliance.

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Scott Baker, 541-867-0255, scott.baker@oregonstate.edu;

Alana Alexander, 785-864-9886, alana.alexander@ku.edu

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This photo of a sperm whale pod was taken by Gabriel Barathieu: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sperm_whale_pod.jpg

Study shows forest thinning changes movement patterns, habitat use by martens

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists who for the first time used global positioning system (GPS) telemetry to monitor the movements of reclusive Pacific martens have discovered that these fierce, tiny mammals tend to avoid open stands of trees resulting from forest thinning.

That could put conservation efforts to protect martens at odds with modern forest management, but the researchers say there is a prescription that may work for both interests: maintaining forest thinning at lower elevations, which are less favored by martens, and preserve more high-elevation forests – which are at less risk for catastrophic wildfire – as complex, marten-friendly stands.

Results of the research, which was conducted in northern California, have just been published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.

“There are two main reasons that martens avoid open forests,” said Katie Moriarty, a post-doctoral research biologist with the U.S. Forest Service, who conducted the research as a doctoral student at Oregon State University. “Martens eat a lot of food – up to a quarter of their body weight a day. It would be like you eating 100 hamburgers. They need downed logs and dense sapling cover to hunt successfully.

“Since they are the size of a gray squirrel, the woods are a dangerous place. They need to avoid being eaten. And for them, a wide-open forest is like being dropped into Jurassic Park filled with velociraptors. They just won’t stay in those areas.”

The study is important because Pacific martens are considered an indicator species for ecosystem health, said Clinton Epps, an associate professor in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and co-author on the study. The key to the research was the use of GPS to observe a finer scale of the martens’ movements.

“We were able to collect the locations of tagged martens so frequently that we could infer their movements through tree stands rather than relying on a typical radio telemetry study,” Epps said. “There was clear evidence that their movement is affected by forest characteristics in different seasons.

“The spatial configuration of habitat is very important in these systems, even at the scale of an individual animal’s movement. The martens typically avoided simplified stands and they behaved differently if they used them.”

Much of the research was conducted in Lassen National Forest, which has the lowest documented annual survival rates for martens in North America – about 37 percent of them die each year. Forest lands are actively thinned, Moriarty said, although there is no established link between the survival rate and forest management practices. “We can’t assume a causal relationship,” she said.

What the researchers can document is how martens move through different forest types.

“Martens strongly selected complex forest stands over simple stands and openings,” said Moriarty, who is with the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Olympia, Washington. “Their movements were slower and more sinuous in complex stands with lots of cover. When they were in the open, their movements were more erratic and linear. Those altered patterns of movement in open forests appear to negatively affect the ability of martens to forage without increase risk of predation.”

Martens are one of the smaller members of the weasel family, weighing between one and two-and-a-half pounds – and they look something like a cross between a fox and a mink. Martens are “smaller than a Chihuahua,” Moriarty said, “but have the attitude of a pit bull. They really have a little man’s complex.”

Small but fierce predators, martens feast on snowshoe hare, chipmunks, voles and other small mammals, and also consume bird eggs and berries. They can survive rugged winters with snow more than a dozen feet deep.

“If martens are thriving in an area, that usually is a sign of a healthy ecosystem,” Moriarty said.

Moriarty’s work has paid off in more than one way. In 2008, while studying martens in Tahoe National Forest, she gathered photographic evidence of a wolverine – the first sighting of the animal in California in 75 years.

The marten research was funded by Lassen National Forest with assistance from the Pacific Southwest Research Station and OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

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Katie Moriarty, 360-753-7716, kmoriarty02@fs.fed.us;

Clint Epps, 541-737-2478, Clinton.epps@oregonstate.edu

Five years after tsunami, scientists cross fingers on invasive species establishment

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Five years after a massive earthquake struck Japan and triggered a tsunami that is still washing debris onto the West Coast of the United States, scientists are unsure whether any of the 200-plus non-native species that hitchhiked over on that debris have gained a foothold in Northwest waters.

Four separate findings of barred knifejaws (Oplegnathus fasciatus) – a fish native to Japan – have been reported over the past three years, and Mediterranean blue mussels have been ubiquitous on tsunami debris. Yet no populations of non-native species that arrived with the tsunami debris are known to have established reproductive populations.

“Maybe we dodged the bullet, although it is still too early to tell,” said John Chapman, an Oregon State University invasive species expert who has investigated tsunami debris along the Pacific coastline. “It is possible that we have not yet discovered these reproductive populations, or that some species from Japan may be cross-breeding with our own species.”

Scientists have not had adequate resources to look extensively up and down the Pacific coast for evidence of establishment by non-native species – especially along long stretches of rugged shoreline.

The magnitude-9 earthquake that struck Japan on March 11, 2011, was the largest in that country’s history and generated a tsunami that had waves estimated as high as 133 feet. The power of these two events, combined with the growth of human settlement over the past two to three centuries, created a new paradigm, said Samuel Chan, an expert in aquatic ecosystem health and invasive species with the Oregon Sea Grant program at Oregon State.

“A tsunami 300 years ago, or even just 60 years ago, would not have created as much marine debris that became a vehicle for moving species across the Pacific Ocean that could become invasive,” Chan said. “What makes these major tsunami-driven events different in modern times is the substantial human industrial infrastructure that we have built along the Pacific coast.”

The first indication that a potential problem loomed came in June of 2012, when a large concrete dock that originated in Misawa, Japan, washed ashore near Newport, Oregon – just a stone’s throw from OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center.

The 165-ton dock – which was 66 feet long, 19 feet wide and seven feet high – was covered with nearly 200 species of plant and animal life, including a species of brown algae (Undaria pinnatifida) that nearly covered the structure. Chapman and colleague Jessica Miller also found Northern Pacific sea stars, Japanese shore crabs, at least eight species of mollusk, an anemone, a sponge, an oyster, a solitary tunicate, three or more species of amphipods, four or more species of barnacles and worms, bryozoans, a European blue mussel known as Mytilus galloprovincialis, and a sea urchin.

“Frankly,” Chapman said, “we were blown away. We had always thought these organisms would not be able to survive the long trip across the Pacific Ocean, the middle of which is a biological desert. Yet here they were.”

In March of 2013, a boat from Japan containing five barred knifejaws washed ashore in the state of Washington; one is still on display in the Seaside Aquarium. A second knifejaw was filmed in a shipwreck near Monterey, California. Then a third knifejaw was found trapped in a crab pot near Port Orford, Oregon, in February 2015. Just two months later, another was discovered in a boat tank from Japanese tsunami debris near Seal Rock, Oregon.

“Those knifejaws all survived,” Chapman said. “Theoretically, the water temperatures north of Point Conception, California, are too cold for them to spawn. But it’s hard to know for sure.”

Chan has been working with colleagues from Japan’s Tottori University for Environmental Studies on a project that launched dozens of transponders into the waters off that country and traced their path across the Pacific Ocean to North America. The researchers’ goal is to find out what routes the tsunami debris might have taken and how that may influence the type of organisms found aboard the debris.

“Some species have been discovered that are not native to Japan, and others have not even been identified,” Chan noted. “The transponders bobbed around off Japan for some time and then went fairly quickly across the Pacific. But once they arrived here, they moved in and out of near-shore waters, and up and down the coast.

“Satellite tracking of transponders and their discovery by beachcombers indicates that they floated for 2-3 years before they beached on land,” Chan added. “The movement patterns of the transponders within the continental shelves of Japan and North American – where nutrients and food are relatively available – could be one piece of a complex puzzle that have allowed these organisms to survive the trans-Pacific journey.”

Chan said international exchanges in the five years since the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami have been a bright point, resulting in close collaboration and a shared sense of discovery among Japanese and American scientists.

“The debris still arriving five years later is a reminder that has raised awareness among people – many of whom have been complacent or unaware – about the power and destruction that earthquakes and tsunamis can cause on both sides of the Pacific,” Chan said.

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Sam Chan, 541-737-1583, Samuel.chan@oregonstate.edu;

John Chapman, 541-867-0235, john.chapman@oregonstate.edu

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(Left: OSU's John Chapman examines a mussel-encrusted boat from Japan.)

 

 

Natural Resources Leadership Academy 2012

Sam Chan informs coastal visitors about the Japanese dock (background) that washed ashore from Japan.

 

knifejaws

A barred knifejaw from Japan survived its trans-Pacific Ocean journey.

 

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OSU's Jessica Miller examines a sea star.

Scientists say window to reduce carbon emissions is small

CORVALLIS, Ore. – At the rate humans are emitting carbon into the atmosphere, the Earth may suffer irreparable damage that could last tens of thousands of years, according to a new analysis published this week.

Too much of the climate change policy debate has focused on observations of the past 150 years and their impact on global warming and sea level rise by the end of this century, the authors say. Instead, policy-makers and the public should also be considering the longer-term impacts of climate change.

“Much of the carbon we are putting in the air from burning fossil fuels will stay there for thousands of years – and some of it will be there for more than 100,000 years,” said Peter Clark, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and lead author on the article. “People need to understand that the effects of climate change on the planet won’t go away, at least not for thousands of generations.”

The researchers’ analysis is being published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Thomas Stocker of the University of Bern in Switzerland, who is past-co-chair of the IPCC’s Working Group I, said the focus on climate change at the end of the 21st century needs to be shifted toward a much longer-term perspective.

“Our greenhouse gas emissions today produce climate-change commitments for many centuries to millennia,” said Stocker, a climate modeler and co-author on the Nature Climate Change article. “It is high time that this essential irreversibility is placed into the focus of policy-makers.

“The long-term view sends the chilling message (about) what the real risks and consequences are of the fossil fuel era,” Stocker added. “It will commit us to massive adaptation efforts so that for many, dislocation and migration becomes the only option.”

Sea level rise is one of the most compelling impacts of global warming, yet its effects are just starting to be seen. The latest IPCC report, for example, calls for sea level rise of just one meter by the year 2100. In their analysis, however, the authors look at four difference sea level-rise scenarios based on different rates of warming, from a low end that could only be reached with massive efforts to eliminate fossil fuel use over the next few decades, to a higher rate based on the consumption of half the remaining fossil fuels over the next few centuries.

With just two degrees (Celsius) warming in the low-end scenario, sea levels are predicted to eventually rise by about 25 meters. With seven degrees warming at the high-end scenario, the rise is estimated at 50 meters, although over a period of several centuries to millennia.

“It takes sea level rise a very long time to react – on the order of centuries,” Clark said. “It’s like heating a pot of water on the stove; it doesn’t boil for quite a while after the heat is turned on – but then it will continue to boil as long as the heat persists. Once carbon is in the atmosphere, it will stay there for tens or hundreds of thousands of years, and the warming, as well as the higher seas, will remain.”

Clark said for the low-end scenario, an estimated 122 countries have at least 10 percent of their population in areas that will be directly affected by rising sea levels, and that some 1.3 billion – or 20 percent of the global population – live on lands that may be directly affected. The impacts become greater as the warming and sea level rise increases.

“We can’t keep building seawalls that are 25 meters high,” noted Clark, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Entire populations of cities will eventually have to move.”

Daniel Schrag, the Sturgis Hooper Professor of Geology at Harvard University, said there are moral questions about “what kind of environment we are passing along to future generations.”

“Sea level rise may not seem like such a big deal today, but we are making choices that will affect our grandchildren’s grandchildren – and beyond,” said Schrag, a co-author on the analysis and director of Harvard’s Center for the Environment. “We need to think carefully about the long time-scales of what we are unleashing.”

The new paper makes the fundamental point that considering the long time scales of the carbon cycle and of climate change means that reducing emissions slightly or even significantly is not sufficient. “To spare future generations from the worst impacts of climate change, the target must be zero – or even negative carbon emissions – as soon as possible,” Clark said.

“Taking the first steps is important, but it is essential to see these as the start of a path toward total decarbonization,” Schrag pointed out. “This means continuing to invest in innovation that can someday replace fossil fuels altogether. Partial reductions are not going to do the job.”

Stocker said that in the last 50 years alone, humans have changed the climate on a global scale, initiating the Anthropocene, a new geological era with fundamentally altered living conditions for the next many thousands of years.

“Because we do not know to what extent adaptation will be possible for humans and ecosystems, all our efforts must focus on a rapid and complete decarbonization –the only option to limit climate change,” Stocker said.

The researchers’ work was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the German Science Foundation and the Swiss National Science Foundation.

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Peter Clark, 541-737-1247, clarkp@geo.oregonstate.edu;

Thomas Stocker, +41 31 631 44 62, stocker@climate.unibe.ch;

Daniel Schrag, 617-233-2554, schrag@eps.harvard.edu

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Rising sea levels will threaten residents of many countries.

Over-hunting in Amazon threatens global carbon budget

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The vast forests of the Amazon store enormous amounts of carbon that help moderate the Earth’s temperature, but a new study shows that this carbon-storing capacity is being threatened by over-hunting.

Wide-scale reduction of fruit-eating large mammals – especially primates and tapirs – is changing the way seeds are dispersed in the Amazon and changing the composition of forests, the researchers say.

Results of the study are being published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Large mammals including spider monkeys and wooly monkeys are fruit-eaters that historically have made up most of the frugivore (or fruit-eating) biomass in these forests,” said Taal Levi, an Oregon State University ecologist and author on the study. “There are many tree species with large seeds that rely on these primates to spread seeds through the forest.

“These large-seeded fruit trees are also slow-growing and populate the forest with dense wood that sequesters a great deal more carbon than in typically stored in trees dispersed by wind or smaller frugivores,” Levi added.

As technology has advanced and firearms have spread through tropical forests, hunting success has improved and these primates have been extirpated from vast areas, Levi pointed out.

“When large primates and tapirs, which are the largest frugivores in the neo-tropics, are lost, forests are eventually populated by plants whose seeds are more likely dispersed by wind, rodents or birds,” Levi said. “It is not the same aggregation of plants and it is affecting the Amazon’s carbon-storing ability.”

In fact, the researchers say, over-hunting occurs over much larger areas than the total area of the Amazon forest affected by deforestation. A relatively small loss in the amount of carbon stored in trees can lead to enormous declines in the amount of carbon stored in these vast forests.

The analysis of 166 wildlife surveys across the Amazon basin documents the loss of large primates. Levi’s computer model projects that this will result in more than three out of four plots losing forest biomass, with a (conservatively) estimated average loss of 2.5 to 3 percent.

Tapirs are another key seed disperser that is sensitive to over-hunting. When tapirs are lost in addition to large primates, nearly nine out of 10 plots will lose forest biomass with the loss (conservatively) projected to average about 5.8 percent.

“The loss of 2.5 to 5.8 percent of biomass may not sound like a lot,” Levi said, “but in an area as vast as the Amazon, the impact could be huge – a projected 313 billion kilograms of carbon not being absorbed.”

Levi said the economic value of such a loss on the world carbon markets could range between $5.91 trillion and $13.65 trillion.

The researchers studied data from 2,345 one-hectare forest plots scattered across the Brazilian Amazon containing nearly 130,000 large trees. Simulations showed that 77 to 88 percent of these plots will lose above-ground forest biomass when the forests are over-hunted and trees that require large primates or tapirs to regenerate are replaced by other trees on the same plots.

Carlos Peres, a research ecologist with the University of East Anglia and lead author on the study, said the research uncovers an important – and perhaps under-appreciated – link between wildlife and climate change.

“Amazonian forest wildlife has been declining through a combination of habitat destruction, habitat degradation and overhunting since the 1950s,” Peres said, “but until now there was a poor understanding of the status of wildlife populations in hunted forests that otherwise remain intact and free of human disturbance.

“We show that dense-wooded, large-seeded Amazonian tree species are replaced by light-wooded trees that produce smaller seeds, which continue to be dispersed in over-hunted forests by more resilient smaller mammal and bird species,” he added.

Levi said trying to manage the forests by manually dispersing seeds would be impractical because of the vastness of the Amazonian forests. There also is evidence that seeds that go through the digestive tract of large mammals are more likely to germinate having been cleansed of flesh that attracts fungal pathogens and other natural enemies.

“Seeds that fall from trees contain a lot of pulp,” Levi said, “and in tropical climates become excellent petri dishes for fungus to colonize.”

The researchers say the key to protecting optimal forest composition is to recognize the importance of hunting and better manage it.

“These findings highlight an urgent need to manage the sustainability of game hunting in both protected and unprotected tropical forests, and place full biodiversity integrity, including populations of large frugivorous vertebrates, firmly in the agenda of reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+) programs,” the authors noted in the article.

Other authors on the PNAS article are from the National Institute of Amazonian Research and Fiocruz Amazonia.

 

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

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Photo of grey wooly monkey (by Carlos Peres): https://flic.kr/p/Crcxvt

2015 goes down as the warmest in Oregon history

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A mild winter, an early spring and warmer-than-average temperatures every season have contributed to a record-breaking year, as 2015 will go down as the warmest in Oregon since state records began in 1895.

Oregon’s previous record high average temperature of 49.9 degrees was set in 1934 – the height of the Dust Bowl – when the entire country was plagued by hot, dry weather.

Despite a cold, icy end to December in Oregon, the average temperature in 2015 was 50.4 degrees, not only a record but far above the average yearly temperature for the 20th century, which was 47.8 degrees, according to Oregon State University’s Philip Mote, who directs the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute on campus.

“In previous years, we’ve had periods where the weather was warmer for differing spells,” Mote said. “In 2015, though, it was warmer than average almost all the way through the year.” A combination of meteorological conditions and greenhouse gases led to the record warm year, he added.

The statistics are from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

Oregon was not alone in experiencing a warm 2015, according to Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at OSU. Washington, Montana and Florida also experienced record high temperatures, and in several other states 2015 went down in the top five of all time.

It appears this will be yet another record warm year for average global temperature, Dello pointed out, and it is officially the second warmest year in the United States, despite blizzards and Arctic temperatures in the Northeast.

“If you are 31 years of age, you have not lived through a single month in which the global temperature was below average,” Dello said. “And if you are 31 and living in Oregon, you have only experienced three years here that were cooler than the 20th-century average.”

Researchers calculate the average temperature for each day by looking at the highest and lowest temperatures. If the high reaches 90 degrees and the low is 60, that day’s average temperature is 75 degrees. They then calculate the average monthly temperature, and finally, the average yearly temperature.

The average for the state is done by analyzing temperatures at a series of long-established weather stations throughout the state.

 “We had a ridge of high pressure that set up and kept the weather warm and dry throughout most of the summer and fall,” Mote said. “That followed a winter in which we got nearly average precipitation, but much of it came from the south and it fell as rain instead of snow.”

Mote said the record-setting 2015 weather was a combination of meteorological phenomena and the Earth gradually getting warmer because of human activities.

Through rigorous statistical analysis, scientists are able to tease out the impacts of El Niño, greenhouse gas emissions, volcanic activity and solar activity on temperatures. Mote said 2015 would have been a warm year because of meteorological conditions, but the 1-2 degrees (F) attributable to greenhouse gases pushed temperatures into record territory.

“There’s little doubt that the insulation of the planet from greenhouse gas emissions played a role in the warming throughout the year,” he said.

The OSU researchers say expect more of the same in 2016.

“With El Niño and the remnants of The Blob (a huge warm patch of water in the North Pacific Ocean), it should be another warm year for the Earth, and for Oregon,” Dello said.

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Phil Mote, 541-737-5694, pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu;

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

 

 

 

 

 

A 72-degree day in January (2015) at Yachats on the Oregon Coast. (photo by Theresa Hogue)

Selina Heppell named head of OSU Fisheries and Wildlife Department

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Selina Heppell, an Oregon State University conservation biologist, has been named head of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

She is the first woman to hold that position in the department’s 80-year history.

Heppell succeeds former department head W. Daniel “Dan” Edge, who earlier this year was named associate dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. A faculty member in fisheries and wildlife since 2001, Heppell has served as associate and interim head of the department.

“Selina has provided terrific leadership during her term as interim head of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and I am delighted that she will continue to lead the department, which is one of the best in the nation,” said Dan Arp, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. “She is a distinguished researcher and teacher with a demonstrated commitment to excellence.”

Heppell will lead one of the largest natural sciences programs at OSU, with more than 600 registered undergraduate majors in Corvallis and online, 180 graduate students and eight degrees and certificates. There are about 140 (non-student) employees in the department, which brought in about $7.4 million in research grants and contracts in 2015.

“We’re a big family,” Heppell said, “and I am very happy to work with such a fantastic group of faculty, staff and students.”

Heppell came to OSU after a post-doctoral appointment at the Environmental Protection Agency in Corvallis. Much of her research has been devoted to the study and protection of some of the slowest-growing animals in the sea, including sturgeon, sea turtles, sharks and West Coast rockfish. She uses computer models and simulations to examine how these species respond to human impacts – and how they may respond to future climate change.

She shares a laboratory with her husband, Scott Heppell, on campus and at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. The Heppells teach a conservation biology course in Eastern Europe, and have done field research on fish in the Caribbean, in addition to their West Coast research.

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Selina Heppell, 541-737-9039, Selina.Heppell@oregonstate.edu;

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

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selinaheppell2015
OSU's Selina Heppell

Study finds valley sites lost – and gained – about half of their bird diversity in 60 years

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study comparing bird communities six decades apart at five sites in Oregon’s Willamette Valley has documented the loss of roughly 50 percent of the bird species – yet at the same time, recorded almost the same number of new species.

The bottom line is that there has been little change in the number of species or diversity over 60 years, but a great deal of change in the specific bird species occupying the sites.

“Bird communities change naturally as the habitat changes,” noted Jenna Curtis, a doctoral student in fisheries and wildlife at Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences and lead author on the study. “Some of the change is natural, as plants grow, while in other instances the habitat is altered through agriculture, urbanization or other human activities.”

Birds increasing in association with human activity and favorable conditions include Anna’s hummingbird, European starling, brown-headed cowbird, and house finch.

Some of the birds that appear to be decreasing because of regional environmental changes include Nashville warbler, chipping sparrow, and the northern rough-winged swallow.

Some species have experienced little change in numbers from one master’s study to another over 60 years, including killdeer, several woodpecker species, American robins, song sparrows, red-winged blackbirds, Steller’s jays, American crows, and others.

Results of the research have been published in the journal, PeerJ.

The study is unusual because there are few highly detailed, historic surveys of bird communities on a local level – especially ones that looked at multiple habitats, including coniferous forest, oak woodland, marsh, mixed deciduous, riverine/riparian and brushy. But in 1953, Richard Eddy completed and published a master’s thesis at Oregon State in which he surveyed and documented bird species at six sites within 50 kilometers of Corvallis.

As part of her own master’s study, Curtis located five of Eddy’s original six sites and conducted a new survey, comparing the richness and diversity of bird species – during many of the same times of year as Eddy.

“Quite a bit has changed in six decades,” Curtis said. “One site, which used to be known as Murphy’s Beach, is now a sports recreation facility at Crystal Lake Park near Corvallis. It used to be very barren, with old roads and chest-high grass until a flood in the 1960s completely altered the landscape. Now there are large cottonwood trees and soccer fields. Bird populations change accordingly.”

Another site was off Bruce Road on Highway 99 between Corvallis and Monroe. When Eddy did his survey, much of the marsh was grazed by cattle. With new water management protocols, this area within Finley Wildlife Refuge is now a haven for waterbirds.

W. Douglas Robinson, the Mace Professor for Watchable Wildlife at OSU, has been conducting bird surveys in each county in Oregon to begin establishing new baselines for species diversity throughout Oregon by the year 2020. Human activities throughout western Oregon can influence bird populations at local sites, he said.

“There have been massive changes in agriculture resulting in larger fields and fewer pastures,” Robinson said. “As a result, species like pheasant, bobwhite, chipping sparrows and common nighthawks largely have disappeared throughout the valley. This study is wonderful because it is so rare to find such detailed information from 60 years ago and compare it to what is happening today. It helps us to better understand how birds respond to changes in landscape – both natural and human-caused.”

Curtis and Robinson say it isn’t clear whether climate change and drought have had a significant impact on bird species in western Oregon.

“That’s why we need to gather more baseline data,” Robinson said, “so that we know what is ‘normal’ and can identify deviations. There are some signals, for example, that there may be changes in the insect populations, which would affect a number of bird species. But we need more data there, too.”

Persons interested in volunteering for the Oregon 2020 project can find more information at: http://oregon2020.com/

The Curtis-led study was supported by OSU through the Bob and Phyllis Mace Watchable Wildlife Professorship and a scholarship from the Santiam Fish and Game Association.

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Jenna Curtis, 503-559-6094, jenna.curtis@oregonstate.edu;


Doug Robinson, 541-737-9501, douglas.robinson@oregonstate.edu 

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Photo at left: A Nashville warbler (photo by Frank Lospalluto). Photo link: https://flic.kr/p/yFrKg9

 

 

 

 

 

 

 chippingsparrow

  A chipping sparrow (photo by Frank Lospalluto)

 

 

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Anna's hummingbird (photo by Frank Lospalluto)

Wildlife ecologist working on teaching conservation in Africa

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A wildlife ecologist from Oregon was in Namibia last month, teaching a course to African students and faculty on the importance of maintaining connecting animal migration pathways when an American hunter killed a revered lion named Cecil in nearby Zimbabwe.

The irony was not lost on Susan Haig, a senior scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a professor of wildlife ecology at Oregon State University. Here she was at a tiny campus near the Okavango Delta in southern Africa, having paid her own way to teach a course on wildlife conservation to 35 African students, when a wealthy American trophy hunter fired the shot heard ‘round the world.

“The students thought it was just terrible,” Haig said. “It was an affront to their sense of nationalism that a person would come into Africa and do something like that. It was also ironic because their own government sells trophy hunting tags to foreign visitors.”

Haig said the shooting of Cecil underscores the lack of formal wildlife management programs in many African countries. Namibia has only one full-time wildlife professor in the country – and he is from Poland, she pointed out. Many of the Namibian students and faculty in her class are interested in pursuing a career in conservation and at least two may enroll this year at Oregon State if they can secure funding.

“Ideally, I would like to see a handful of Oregon State students go to the University of Namibia satellite campus at Katima and study each year, and bring a handful of Namibian students to OSU,” Haig said. “Oregon State is a national leader in conservation biology, and Katima is near one of the most important wildlife migration areas in Africa.”

The Okavango Delta is where several major rivers – including the Zambezi, Chobe, Okavango and others – meet in a huge wetland that provides critical habitat for a wide array of animals. The countries of Namibia, Angola, Zambia and Botswana recently signed an agreement to protect the migratory movements of large mammals in the region – an important first step in formalizing a conservation strategy, Haig said.

Botswana went so far as to ban many forms of hunting, she pointed out.

“Some of the governments are getting wise to the idea that there is more money to be made from tourism than from killing the animals,” she said. “There’s a pretty good job market now for tour guides, which is where a lot of students work. The next step is to get students at a younger age to think about conservation concepts.

“I would love to help start a grade-school curriculum about wildlife there,” she added. “The only time they think about lions is when they’re walking to school and worry about being attacked. One reason I wanted to teach the course in Katima is that there are so few opportunities for students there to learn about conservation – and these students are the future leaders of wildlife management.”

In her course, Haig discussed the importance of understanding wildlife corridors and migration patterns – and how that knowledge can be applied to other areas. One example, she said, is how the airline industry has studied migratory birds to reduce the frequency of plane crashes caused by collisions with birds.

She also outlined different ways to track animals, from molecular markers to listening devices to satellites. The students then had to design their own study. Haig and the students also had ample time to go into the field, where the diversity of Africa’s wildlife was on full display.

“There are more bird species in that one area of the Okavango Delta than in all of the United States and Canada combined,” Haig said. “We saw some incredible sights. One day we came upon a lioness with three cubs that had just killed a kudu, when a couple of hyenas arrived. They began calling and soon there were 23 of them. They assembled into a military-like position and systematically lunged at the lions until they ran off.

“Then the hyenas all started laughing, for lack of a better term, in that hyena-like way,” she added. “It was an incredible experience. I’ve never seen such organization and communication in animals.”

But her most memorable experiences came from traveling through small villages in Namibia, where she and incoming OSU student Kelly Huber gave away soccer balls. Haig, a veteran of trips to Africa and South America, had brought nearly a dozen deflated soccer balls on the trip and an air pump.

“The look in the eyes of the kids and parents when we brought out a soccer ball was unforgettable,” she said. “Outside of one village, we came across three little kids in the road and gave them a ball. Their eyes were just huge. It seems like such a small thing, but they acted like we had just given them a new house.”

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Sue Haig, 541-750-0981, susan.haig@usgs.gov

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Link to photo:https://flic.kr/p/wKZ7Wn

 

 

 

 

 


hippos

Hippos in the Okavango Delta.

 

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A cheetah warily eyes the photographer.

 

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An African Grey Crowned Crane

View of “nature as capital” uses economic value to help achieve a sustainable future

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers today outlined in a series of reports how governments, organizations and corporations are successfully moving away from short-term exploitation of the natural world and embracing a long-term vision of “nature as capital” – the ultimate world bank upon which the health and prosperity of humans and the planet depend.

The reports, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggest that significant progress has been made in the past decade, and that people, policy-makers and leaders around the world are beginning to understand ecosystem services as far more than a tree to cut or fish to harvest.

“Valuing nature means understanding the myriad ways in which our communities, health and economies depend on ecosystems,” said Jane Lubchenco, a distinguished professor at Oregon State University, former director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and co-leader of this group of studies.

“There is now broad appreciation of nature’s values and we are learning how to incorporate that knowledge into policy and management decisions by governments, financial institutions and businesses,” she said. “In 10 years we’ve gone from very little specific understanding to powerful examples, where working with nature is benefitting people now and in the future.”

The stakes are high. The world’s gross domestic product has increased nearly 60 times since the start of the Industrial Revolution, the researchers point out, allowing a dramatic increase in the standard of living even as Earth’s population surged.

But with global environmental threats in the future and a world population that may approach 10 billion by 2100, the health of nature will literally become a life-support system that no longer can tolerate short-term production and consumption at the expense of natural stewardship. Disasters such as the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill are being evaluated not just based on the immediate damage, but also the long-term costs such as lost water filtration, hunting and fishing.

Scientists say that just in recent years, we may be turning the corner toward approaches that could help the planet and all its natural inhabitants to live long and prosper.

In the U.S., some coastal restoration practices gained support as more people understood their additional value for carbon sequestration and storage. In Denver, a water board provided $32 million for forest restoration work to avoid damage to water quality caused by large wildfires.

Costa Rica has transformed itself from having the world’s highest deforestation rate to one of the few countries with net reforestation. South Africa has linked development and ecosystem service planning to better allocate water, reduce poverty and avoid disasters. China is creating a network of “ecosystem function conservation areas” that focus conservation in areas with a high return on investment. In the Brazilian Amazon, environmental protection has helped reduce the incidence of malaria, acute respiratory infection and diarrhea.

The researchers said that sometimes, but not always, it can help to literally translate ecosystem services into a dollar value – what something is worth, and what would it cost if we lost it. Such approaches have helped set the stage for cap-and-trade of carbon emissions, taxes on activities with negative ecosystem impacts, and certification systems to help inform consumers and realign incentives in the private sector.

One notable success story, outlined today in a different publication co-authored by Lubchenco in the journal Oceanography, is fisheries policy and marine management in the U.S. and European Union.

The approach incorporates a commitment to end overfishing, complete with time tables and strict accountability, plus the option of using rights-based approaches to fishery management. In the U.S., these are called “catch shares,” and they give fishermen a say in the present and a stake in the future, within scientifically determined limits. Catch shares, plus the mandate to end overfishing, are turning fisheries around, to the benefit of fishermen, consumers and ecosystems. 

This approach has transformed U.S. fisheries. For example, the number of overfished stocks in U.S. federal fisheries has plummeted from 92 stocks in 2000 to 37 in 2014.  The number of stocks that were previously depleted and have now recovered to a point where they can be fished sustainably has increased dramatically, from zero in 2000 to 37 in 2014.

Elsewhere in the world, other rights-based approaches to fisheries are also ending overfishing and protecting biodiversity.  For example, so-called ‘TURF reserves’ combine an exclusive right to fish in a particular area with no-take marine reserves.  Under this system, fully protected marine reserves provide a wide range of ecological benefits while helping to produce larger and more diverse fish species that can “seed” the areas around the reserve. Those areas can then be fished, using science-based harvest levels, by fishermen who have exclusive rights to certain areas, and gain a personal interest in protecting the sustainability of the system.

Such an approach can help protect natural systems in perpetuity while promoting economic health, and may be especially critical for food security in parts of the developing world, where nearly three billion people depend on fish for at least 20 percent of their animal protein intake.

“The challenges in fishery management are significant, but we also have good news to celebrate,” Lubchenco said. “We can end overfishing at the same time we return fisheries to profitability and sustainability.

“Much work remains to be done,” Lubchenco said. “Our global economic, political and social systems depend on the world’s natural resources, but many policy decisions do not yet explicitly incorporate natural capital into the decision-making process. However, these new results from around the world show what works. The real opportunity is widespread adoption of these ideas and approaches.”

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Jane Lubchenco, 541-737-5337

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Rice terraces
Rice terrace in China