OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

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.”

Media Contact: 
Source: 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 


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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.”

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Jane Lubchenco, 541-737-5337

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Rice terraces
Rice terrace in China

Researchers think Axial Seamount off Northwest coast is erupting – right on schedule

NEWPORT, Ore. – Axial Seamount, an active underwater volcano located about 300 miles off the coast of Oregon and Washington, appears to be erupting – after two scientists had forecast that such an event would take place there in 2015.

Geologists Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University and Scott Nooner of the University of North Carolina Wilmington made their forecast last September during a public lecture and followed it up with blog posts and a reiteration of their forecast just last week at a scientific workshop.

They based their forecast on some of their previous research – funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which showed how the volcano inflates and deflates like a balloon in a repeatable pattern as it responds to magma being fed into the seamount.

Since last Friday, the region has experienced thousands of tiny earthquakes – a sign that magma is moving toward the surface – and the seafloor dropped by 2.4 meters, or nearly eight feet, also a sign of magma being withdrawn from a reservoir beneath the summit. Instrumentation recording the activity is part of the NSF-funded Ocean Observatories Initiative. William Wilcock of the University of Washington first observed the earthquakes.

“It isn’t clear yet whether the earthquakes and deflation at Axial are related to a full-blown eruption, or if it is only a large intrusion of magma that hasn’t quite reached the surface,” said Chadwick, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport and also is affiliated with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “There are some hints that lava did erupt, but we may not know for sure until we can get out there with a ship.”

In any case, the researchers say, such an eruption is not a threat to coastal residents. The earthquakes at Axial Seamount are small and the seafloor movements gradual and thus cannot cause a tsunami. Nor is the possible eruption tied to a possible Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

“I have to say, I was having doubts about the forecast even the night before the activity started,” Chadwick admitted. “We didn’t have any real certainty that it would take place – it was more of a way to test our hypothesis that the pattern we have seen was repeatable and predictable.”

Axial Seamount provides scientists with an ideal laboratory, not only because of its close proximity to the Northwest coast, but for its unique structure.

“Because Axial is on very thin ocean crust, its ‘plumbing system’ is simpler than at most volcanoes on land that are often complicated by other factors related to having a thicker crust,” said Chadwick, who is an adjunct professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Thus Axial can give us insights into how volcano magma systems work – and how eruptions might be predicted.”

Axial Seamount last erupted in 2011 and that event was loosely forecast by Chadwick and Nooner, who had said in 2006 that the volcano would erupt before 2014. Since the 2011 eruption, additional research led to a refined forecast that the next eruption would be in 2015 based on the fact that the rate of inflation had increased by about 400 percent since the last eruption.

“We’ve learned that the supply rate of magma has a big influence on the time between eruptions,” Nooner said. “When the magma rate was lower, it took 13 years between eruptions. But now when the magma rate is high, it took only four years.”

Chadwick and Nooner are scheduled to go back to Axial in August to gather more data, but it may be possible for other researchers to visit the seamount on an expedition as early as May. They hope to confirm the eruption and, if so, measure the volume of lava involved.

Evidence that was key to the successful forecast came in the summer of 2014 via measurements taken by colleagues Dave Caress and Dave Clague of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and Mark Zumberge and Glenn Sasagawa of Scripps Oceanographic Institution. Those measurements showed the high rate of magma inflation was continuing.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Bill Chadwick, 541-867-0179, bill.chadwick@oregonstate.edu

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Axial Seamount vent taken in 2011


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OSU named a “top green school” by Princeton Review

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University was ranked number 38 of “50 Top Green Schools” in the 2015 edition of The Princeton Review Guide to 353 Green Colleges.

The guide profiles colleges with exceptional commitments to sustainability, based on their academic offerings and career preparation for students, campus policies, initiatives, and activities. It also gives college applicants information about each school's admission requirements, cost and financial aid, as well as student body facts and statistics.

OSU received a green rating score of 98, and was recognized for its formal sustainability committee, available transportation alternatives and the availability of sustainability-focused degrees, among other things. The highest score a college can receive is 99.

The company tallied 861 colleges in summer 2014, using data from its 2013-14 survey of school administrators. The survey asked them to report on their school's sustainability-related policies, practices, and programs. 

The guide is available online at http://bit.ly/1DQ8te0 and is the only free comprehensive resource of its kind.

According to the review, students at OSU enjoy an "exceptional 'green living' education" on campus. Even the exercise machines at the recreation center help power the university's electrical grid. Known for its excellent reputation in sustainability, many students are drawn to OSU's outstanding engineering, forestry, biology, and geoscience programs. 

“OSU continues to be recognized for going above and beyond in its efforts to create a sustainable campus and a well-rounded student experience that increases awareness of critical global issues,” said Brandon Trelstad, OSU’s sustainability coordinator. “It’s great to be consistently recognized by the Princeton Review and other organizations, and it encourages us to keep meeting higher goals for our sustainability efforts.”

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Brandon Trelstad, 541-737-3307 or Brandon.trelstad@oregonstate.edu

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bentonhall

Benton Hall

Study: Past warming increased snowfall on Antarctica, affecting global sea level

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study confirms that snowfall in Antarctica will increase significantly as the planet warms, offsetting future sea level rise from other sources – but the effect will not be nearly as strong as many scientists previously anticipated because of other, physical processes.

That means that many computer models may be underestimating the amount and rate of sea level rise if they had projected more significant impact from Antarctic snow.

Results of the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, were reported this week in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Scientists have long suspected that snowfall in Antarctica increases during planetary warming and the impact of so much snow tied up on land would have a negative effect on global sea levels. However, computer models on what should happen during warm periods have not matched observational data, according to Peter Clark, an Oregon State University paleoclimatologist and co-author on the study.

“Intuitively, it makes sense that as it warms and more moisture is in the atmosphere, that it will fall as snow in Antarctica,” Clark said. “The problem is that we’re not really seeing that through the last 50 years of observations – and documenting the relationship between changes in temperature and snow accumulation is difficult to do because of such strong natural variability.”

So Clark and his colleagues looked to the past to examine ice core data to see what they could learn about the future. They found that ice cores taken from the Antarctic Ice Sheet captured snow accumulation over time – and they could match that accumulation with established temperature data. They focused on a period from 21,000 years ago to 10,000 years ago – when the Earth gradually came out of the last ice age.

What they found was that Antarctica warmed an average of 5 to 10 degrees (Celsius) during that period – and for every degree of warming, there was a 5 percent increase in snowfall.

“The additional weight of the snow would have increased the ice flow into the ocean offsetting some of the limiting effect on sea level rise,” said Katja Frieler, a climatologist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany and the lead author of the study. “It’s basic ice physics.”

The scientists found that the ice core results agreed with projections from three dozen computer models used to calculate future changes in snowfall. The end result, Clark said, is that projected increasing snowfall will still have a limiting effect on sea level rise, but that impact will be some 20 percent less than previously expected.

“Looking at the past gives us more confidence in anticipating what will happen in the future,” Clark noted. “The validation through ice core studies helps ground truth the computer models.”

Clark, a professor in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, was coordinating lead author on sea level change for the fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.

Other researchers involved in the study are from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany; the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Utrecht University in The Netherlands, and the University of Potsdam.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

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

New research reveals low-oxygen impacts on West Coast groundfish

CORVALLIS, Ore. – When low-oxygen “dead zones” began appearing off the Oregon Coast in the early 2000’s, photos of the ocean floor revealed bottom-dwelling crabs that could not escape the suffocating conditions and died by the thousands.

But the question everyone asked was, “What about the fish?” recalls Oregon State University oceanographer Jack Barth.

“We didn’t really know the impacts on fish,” Barth said. “We couldn’t see them.”

Scientists from NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Oregon State have begun to answer that question with a new paper published in the journal Fisheries Oceanography. The paper finds that low-oxygen waters projected to expand with climate change create winners and losers among fish, with some adapted to handle low-oxygen conditions that drive other species away.

Generally the number of fish species declines with oxygen levels as sensitive species leave the area, said Aimee Keller, a fisheries biologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and lead author of the new paper. But a few species such as Dover sole and greenstriped rockfish appear largely unaffected.

“One of our main questions was, ‘Are there fewer species present in an area when the oxygen drops?’ and yes, we definitely see that,” Keller said. “As it goes lower and lower you see more and more correlation between species and oxygen levels.”

Deep waters off the West Coast have long been known to be naturally low in oxygen. But the new findings show that the spread of lower oxygen conditions, which have been documented closer to shore and off Washington and California, could redistribute fish in ways that affect fishing fleets as well as the marine food chain.

The lower the oxygen levels, for example, the more effort fishing boats will have to invest to find enough fish. “We may see fish sensitive to oxygen levels may be pushed into habitat that’s less desirable and they may grow more slowly in those areas,” Keller said.

Researchers examined the effect of low-oxygen waters with the help of West Coast trawl surveys conducted every year by the Northwest Fisheries Science Center to assess the status of groundfish stocks. They developed a sturdy, protective housing for oxygen sensors that could be attached to the trawl nets to determine what species the nets swept up in areas of different oxygen concentrations.

The study combined the expertise of fisheries scientists such as Keller who assess fish stocks with oceanographers such as Barth who track ocean conditions to look at the relationship between the two.

“Initially, we would tell them where the low oxygen was, and they would trawl within areas ranging from low to high oxygen,” explained Barth, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Later, oxygen sensors were deployed on all tows during the groundfish survey. They would look at the catch and the species richness.

“We tried to get it down to the individual species level, where we could tell which fish correlated with which oxygen levels.”  

Low-oxygen waters appear off the West Coast in two ways, Barth said. The first is the eastward movement of deep, oxygen-poor water that laps up against the West Coast. The second occurs when wind-driven upwelling brings nutrients to the surface, fueling blooms of phytoplankton that eventually die and sink to the bottom. Their decay then consumes the oxygen, leaving what scientists call hypoxic conditions where oxygen levels are low enough to adversely affect marine organisms.

The scientists examined the effects of varying oxygen levels on four representative species: spotted ratfish, petrale sole, greenstriped rockfish and Dover sole.

Spotted ratfish and petrale sole were the most sensitive to changes in oxygen levels, with their presence declining sharply as the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water declines. But greenstriped rockfish and Dover sole were largely unaffected by dissolved oxygen levels.

Dover sole is adapted to low-oxygen waters, with gill surface areas two to three times larger than other fish of similar size that allow it to absorb more oxygen from the same amount of water. Dover sole also are among a few fish species that can reduce their oxygen consumption to very low concentrations, probably an adaptation to low-oxygen conditions.

The research is continuing, with trawl survey vessels carrying oxygen sensors on all of their tows since 2009, Keller said. Further data should provide insight into the response of additional fish species to low oxygen conditions, Keller said.

Media Contact: 

Michael Milstein, NOAA Fisheries, 503-231-6268

Mark Floyd, OSU, 541-737-0788

Source: 

Jack Barth, 541-737-1607, barth@coas.oregonstate.edu

Warm winter wraps up – concern about low snowpack continues

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If it seemed like Oregon has had a lot of unseasonably warm days this winter, well, it’s because we have. Now the focus is on a very low snowpack – and the implications that may have later this year.

The meteorological winter – which is comprised of December, January and February – recently wrapped up and depending on where you live in Oregon, it was one of the warmest – if not the warmest – winters on record.

“It has been a very, very warm winter – almost historically so,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University. “On one hand, the warm temperatures have made for a rather pleasant winter. On the other hand, the snowpack situation has been atrocious, and that really raises concerns for water levels in many streams later this summer.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s seasonal outlook calls for “significantly enhanced likelihood” for a warm spring – especially in western Oregon and western Washington – and a “somewhat reduced likelihood” for a wet spring.

“That’s not a hopeful outlook for the kind of late recovery of snowpack that we have seen in some previous low-snow winters,” Mote noted.

How warm has this winter been? Mote said that each winter month was warmer than average at almost every recording station in Oregon. More than a hundred high temperature records were broken in Oregon – just in December. Another 114 high temperature records were broken in February.

Overall, Mote said, this should go down as the second warmest winter for the Pacific Northwest behind 1933-34, according to data from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. That was the Dust Bowl era - and 2014-15 wasn’t far behind. NOAA reports that parts of eastern and southern Oregon were more than eight degrees warmer than average for the meteorological winter.

Along the coast, temperatures in some places reached the low 70s, amazingly mild for mid-February.

In many other places in western Oregon, temperatures in the 60s were not uncommon. In fact, Roseburg reported 12 days of 60-degree-plus temperatures in February alone, according to National Weather Service data.

Although temperatures were warm, it wasn’t unusually dry, Mote said.

“The precipitation levels were unremarkable – just a bit lower than usual,” he pointed out. “However, a lot more of the precipitation fell as rain instead of snow – and that could have a major impact down the road. California, Oregon and Washington hardly have any snow – less than 10 percent of normal in some basins.”

On a regional basis, the winter temperatures looked like this:

  • Astoria: December was 4.4 degrees warmer than average; January was 2.5 degrees warmer; and February was 5.1 degrees warmer.
  • Eugene was 4.6 degrees warmer than average in December, 2.9 degrees warmer in January, and 5.3 degrees in February. Eugene reached a high of 62 degrees in December, 68 in January (a record for the month), and 65 in the month of February, which had five days of temperatures in the 60s.
  • McMinnville recorded a record high temperature of 66 degrees on Feb. 17, breaking the old mark of 65 set in 1996.
  • Portland was 3.7 degrees warmer than average in December, 2.0 degrees warmer in January, and 5.4 degrees warmer in February. The Rose City had seven days of 60-degree-plus weather in February alone.
  • Roseburg was 6.1 degrees warmer than average in December, 3.5 degrees warmer than average in January, and 4.8 degrees warmer than average in February. Roseburg had a total of 12 days of temperatures in the 60s in February.
  • Pendleton wasn’t as warm as the rest of the state early in the winter, but February was 5.5 degrees warmer than average and Pendleton recorded a high of 66 degrees on Feb. 6.
  • Salem set a new record high for February on Feb. 16, when the mercury reached 66 degrees, breaking the old record of 65 set in 1902.

More weather information is available on the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute website at: http://occri.net/. The institute is housed in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Phil Mote, 541-913-2274; pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu

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A barefoot toddler at the Oregon Coast in January reflects the warm winter in the Northwest this year. (photo by Theresa Hogue)

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Fish native to Japan found in Port Orford waters

NEWPORT, Ore. – A team of scientists from Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is studying an unusual fish captured alive in a crab pot near Port Orford this week called a striped knifejaw that is native to Japan, as well as China and Korea.

The appearance in Oregon waters of the fish (Oplegnathus fasciatus), which is sometimes called a barred knifejaw or striped beakfish, may or may not be related to the Japanese tsunami of 2011, the researchers say, and it is premature to conclude that this non-native species may be established in Oregon waters.

But its appearance and survival certainly raises questions, according to OSU’s John Chapman, an aquatic invasive species specialist at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

“Some association with Japanese tsunami debris is a strong possibility, but we cannot rule out other options, such as the fish being carried over in ballast water of a ship or an aquarium fish being released locally,” Chapman said. “But finding a second knifejaw nearly two years after the discovery of fish in a drifting Japanese boat certainly gets my attention.”

In March 2013, five striped knifejaws were found alive in a boat near Long Beach, Washington, that had drifted over from Japan. Four of the fish were euthanized, but one was taken to the Seaside Aquarium, where it is still alive and well.

OSU marine ecologist Jessica Miller examined the four euthanized knifejaws from Washington in 2013, analyzing their otoliths, or ear bones, for clues to their origin.

“The young fish of these species are known to associate with drift and may be attracted to floating marine debris,” Miller said. “Japanese tsunami marine debris continues to arrive on beaches in Oregon and Washington – and some debris from Japan washed up on the southern Oregon coast this month – so it is not inconceivable that the Port Orford fish was associated with Japanese marine debris.

“The species is also found in other parts of Asia and the northwest Hawaiian islands, so it is native to a broader range than just Japan,” she added. “At this time, there is no evidence that they are successfully reproducing in Oregon.”

Tom Calvanese, an Oregon State graduate student researcher working with Oregon Sea Grant on the start-up of a new OSU field station in Port Orford, worked with the fisherman to secure the exotic species. The fish is approximately 13 centimeters in length, and thus not a fully grown adult, and was captured in a crab pot between Port Orford and Cape Blanco  - just off the Elk River in southern Oregon.

“We are fortunate to have this occur in a fishing community that is ocean-aware,” Calvanese said. “The fisherman who caught the fish identified it as an exotic then transported it to shore alive, where the fish buyer was able to care for it. It was then brought to my attention, initiating a response from the scientific community that will result in an exciting learning opportunity for all.

“It appears to be in good shape and was swimming upright, though it had a small cut in its abdomen,” Calvanese said. “I talked to Keith Chandler at the Seaside Aquarium who suggested feeding it razor clams, which it took readily.”

Steven Rumrill, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, is working with Calvanese and others to transport the fish to a quarantine facility at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, where it will be under the care of OSU aquatic veterinarian Tim Miller-Morgan of Oregon Sea Grant.

“It is important that the fish be held in quarantine until the wound is healed and for sufficient time to ensure that it is free from any pathogens or parasites that could pose a threat to our native fishes,” Rumrill said.

Sam Chan, an OSU invasive species expert affiliated with Oregon Sea Grant and vice-chair of the Oregon Invasive Species Council, has seen striped knifejaws in Japan and estimates this fish may be 1-2 years old.

“Therefore, it is unlikely to have left Japan in the 2011 tsunami,” Chan said, “but a boat could have been milling around Asian waters for the past 2-3 years and then picked up the fish and ridden the currents over. The big question is – are there more of these?”

Chan said Oregon Sea Grant – an OSU-based marine research, education and outreach program – would work with Oregon fishermen, crabbers and others to keep a lookout for additional striped knifejaws and other exotic species.

Calvanese posted a brief video of the fish on you-tube: http://youtu.be/XzA4NPXTYqg

Oregonians who believe they have spotted an invasive species are encouraged to report it at http://oregoninvasiveshotline.org, or call 1-866-INVADER.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

John Chapman, 541-961-3258, john.chapman@oregonstate.edu;

Jessica Miller, 541-867-0381, Jessica.miller@oregonstate.edu;

Tom Calvanese, 415-309-6568, tom.calvanese@oregonstate.edu;

Sam Chan, 503-679-4828, sam.chan@oregonstate.edu;

Steven Rumrill, 541-867-0300, ext. 245; Steven.S.Rumrill@state.or.us

OSU to outfit undersea gliders to “think like a fish”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University researchers have received a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation that will allow them to outfit a pair of undersea gliders with acoustical sensors to identify biological “hot spots” in the coastal ocean.

They also hope to develop an onboard computing system that will program the gliders to perform different functions depending on what they encounter.

In other words, the scientists say, they want to outfit a robotic undersea glider to “think like a fish.”

“We spend all of this time on ships, deploying instrumentation that basically is designed to see how ocean biology aggregates around physical features – like hake at the edge of the continental shelf or salmon at upwelling fronts,” said Jack Barth, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and a principal investigator on the project. “But that just gives us a two-week window into a particular area.

“We already have a basic understanding of the ecosystem,” Barth added. “Now we want to get a better handle of what kind of marine animals are out there, how many there are, where they are distributed, and how they respond to phytoplankton blooms, schools of baitfish or oceanic features. It will benefit a variety of stakeholders, from the fishing industry and resource managers to the scientific community.”

Barth is a physical oceanographer who knows the physical processes of the coastal ocean. He’ll work with Kelly Benoit-Bird, a marine ecologist, who specializes in the relationships among marine organisms from tiny plankton to large whales. Her work utilizes acoustics to identify and track animals below the ocean surface – and it is these sensors that will open up a new world of research aboard the gliders.

“Our first goals are to understand the dynamics of the Pacific Northwest upwelling system, find the biological hotspots, and then see how long they last,” Benoit-Bird said. “Then we’d like to learn what we can about the distribution of prey and predators – and the relationship of both to oceanic conditions.”

Using robot-mounted acoustic sensors, the OSU researchers will be able to identify different kinds of marine animals using their unique acoustical signatures. Diving seabirds, for example, leave a trail of bubbles through the water like the contrail left by a jet. Zooplankton show up as a diffuse cloud. Schooling fish create a glowing, amoeba-shaped image.

“We’ve done this kind of work from ships, but you’re more or less anchored in one spot, which is limiting,” Benoit-Bird said. “By putting sensors on gliders, we hope to follow fish, or circle around a plankton bloom, or see how seabirds dive. We want to learn more about what is going on out there.”

Programming a glider to spend weeks out in the ocean and then “think” when it encounters certain cues, is a challenge that falls upon the third member of the research team, Geoff Hollinger, from OSU’s robotics program in the College of Engineering. Undersea gliders operated by Oregon State already can be programmed to patrol offshore for weeks at a time, following a transect, moving up and down in the water column, and even rising to the surface to beam data back to onshore labs via satellite.

But the instruments aboard the gliders that measure temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen are comparatively simple and require limited power. Using sophisticated bioacoustics sensors that record huge amounts of data, and then programming the gliders to respond to environmental cues, is a significant technological advance.

“All of the technology is there,” Hollinger said, “but combining it into a package to perform on a glider is a huge robotics and systems engineering challenge. You need lots of computing power, longer battery life, and advanced control algorithms.”

Making a glider “think,” or respond to environmental cues, is all about predictive algorithms, he said.

“It is a little like looking at economic indicators in the stock market,” Hollinger pointed out. “Just one indicator is unlikely to tell you how a stock will perform. We need to develop an algorithm that essentially turns the glider into an autonomous vehicle that can run on autopilot.”

The three-year research project should benefit fisheries management, protection of endangered species, analyzing the impacts of new ocean uses such as wave energy, and documenting impacts of climate change, the researchers say.

Oregon State has become a national leader in the use of undersea gliders in research to study the coastal ocean and now owns and operates more than 20 of the instruments through three separate research initiatives. Barth said the vision is to establish a center for underwater vehicles and acoustics research – which would be a key component of its recently announced Marine Studies Initiative.

The university also has a growing program in robotics, of which Hollinger is a key faculty member. This collaborative project funded by Keck exemplifies the collaborative nature of research at Oregon State, the researchers say, where ecologists, oceanographers and roboticists work together.

“This project and the innovative technology could revolutionize how marine scientists study the world’s oceans,” Barth said.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Jack Barth, 541-737-1607, barth@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Kelly Benoit-Bird, 541-737-2063, kbenoit@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Geoff Hollinger, 541-737-5906, Geoff.hollinger@oregonstate.edu

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Study outlines threat of ocean acidification to coastal communities in U.S.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Coastal communities in 15 states that depend on the $1 billion shelled mollusk industry (primarily oysters and clams) are at long-term economic risk from the increasing threat of ocean acidification, a new report concludes.

This first nationwide vulnerability analysis, which was funded through the National Science Foundation’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, was published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The Pacific Northwest has been the most frequently cited region with vulnerable shellfish populations, the authors say, but the report notes that newly identified areas of risk from acidification range from Maine to the Chesapeake Bay, to the bayous of Louisiana.

“Ocean acidification has already cost the oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest nearly $110 million and jeopardized about 3,200 jobs,” said Julie Ekstrom, who was lead author on the study while with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She is now at the University of California at Davis.

George Waldbusser, an Oregon State University marine ecologist and biogeochemist, said the spreading impact of ocean acidification is due primarily to increases in greenhouse gases.

“This clearly illustrates the vulnerability of communities dependent on shellfish to ocean acidification,” said Waldbusser, a researcher in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the paper. “We are still finding ways to increase the adaptive capacity of these communities and industries to cope, and refining our understanding of various species’ specific responses to acidification.

“Ultimately, however, without curbing carbon emissions, we will eventually run out of tools to address the short-term and we will be stuck with a much larger long-term problem,” Waldbusser added.

The analysis identified several “hot zones” facing a number of risk factors. These include:

  • The Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington coasts and estuaries have a “potent combination” of risk factors, including cold waters, upwelling currents that bring corrosive waters closer to the surface, corrosive rivers, and nutrient pollution from land runoff;
  • New England: The product ports of Maine and southern New Hampshire feature poorly buffered rivers running into cold New England waters, which are especially enriched with acidifying carbon dioxide;
  • Mid-Atlantic: East coast estuaries including Narragansett Bay, Chesapeake Bay, and Long Island Sound have an abundance of nitrogen pollution, which exacerbates ocean acidification in waters that are shellfish-rich;
  • Gulf of Mexico: Terrebonne and Plaquemines Parishes of Louisiana, and other communities in the region, have shellfish economies based almost solely on oysters, giving this region fewer options for alternative – and possibly more resilient – mollusk fisheries.

The project team has also developed an interactive map to explore the vulnerability factors regionally.

One concern, the authors say, is that many of the most economically dependent regions – including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Louisiana – are least prepared to respond, with minimal research and monitoring assets for ocean acidification.

The Pacific Northwest, on the other hand, has a robust research effort led by Oregon State University researchers, who already have helped oyster hatcheries rebound from near-disastrous larval die-offs over the past decade. The university recently announced plans to launch a Marine Studies Initiative that would help address complex, multidisciplinary problems such as ocean acidification.

"The power of this project is the collaboration of natural and social scientists focused on a problem that has and will continue to impact industries dependent on the sea,” Waldbusser said.

Waldbusser recently led a study that documented how larval oysters are sensitive to a change in the “saturation state” of ocean water – which ultimately is triggered by an increase in carbon dioxide. The inability of ecosystems to provide enough alkalinity to buffer the increase in CO2 is what kills young oysters in the environment.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

George Waldbusser, 541-737-8964; waldbuss@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Northwest hatchery operation

 

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Oysters threatened by acidification

 

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A young oyster