environment and natural resources

Salmon research will take the stage at Corvallis Science Pub

CORVALLIS, Ore. – David Noakes, an internationally known fish biologist, will bring the science of salmon to the Corvallis Science Pub on Monday, Sept. 10. He’ll review what scientists know about how size affects survival, how a jack salmon can become a king and how wild and hatchery-raised fish compete.

The presentation will begin at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 S.W. Second St., in Corvallis. It is free and open to the public.

In developing the knowledge to support effective salmon policies, Noakes and other scientists use telemetry to follow smolts from stream to sea, analyze diets and strive to understand the mystery of how salmon find their way back home to spawn.

Noakes is an Oregon State University professor of fisheries and wildlife and senior scientist with the Oregon Hatchery Research Center. He will describe research under way at the center as well as educational and public outreach programs in Oregon and as far away as Russia.

The center is a unique research laboratory in the natural environment of the Alsea River watershed. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the OSU Fisheries and Wildlife Department established the center to address research and educational questions about hatchery and wild fish.

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

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David Noakes, 541-737-1953

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Returning chinook salmon on the Umatilla River. Photo by Lynn Ketchum

Beetlemania is coming to Corvallis Science Pub May 14

Beetlemania is coming to Corvallis Science Pub May 14

Contact: Nick Houtman, nick.houtman@oregonstate.edu, 541-737-0783

Source: Chris Marshall, marshach@onid.orst.edu, 541-737-4349

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Beetles have talent. They fly, tunnel, crawl and communicate with each other through chemical clues. Chris Marshall, curator of the Oregon State University Arthropod Collection, will bring the fascinating world of beetles — their history, behavior and ecology — to the Corvallis Science Pub on May 14.

Marshall will show examples of unusual beetles from around the world and discuss ways in which the Oregon State Arthropod Collection is helping scientists and the general public learn about the amazing beetle fauna here in the Pacific Northwest.

As a youth in New England, he started as many amateur bug collectors do, netting butterflies around his neighborhood. But he also found joy in stalking the creepers in creek beds and rotting logs. As a young scientist at Reed College, Harvard and then Cornell, he dug for treasure in insect collections and joined an expedition to Costa Rica. In 2006, he participated in a National Geographic-funded expedition to the remote rainforests of the Guyana Shield.

Today, Marshall manages a collection of more than 3 million insects, the world’s largest repository of bugs native to the Pacific Northwest. It focuses on meeting the needs of researchers but is open to the public by appointment.

Corvallis Science Pub will begin at 6 p.m. on May 14 at the Old World Deli, 341 Second St. in Corvallis. It is free and open to the public.

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

Story By: 

Chris Marshall, 541-737-4349

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Chris Marshall with three-toed sloth

Chris Marshall with three-toed sloth in 2006. (Photo: Piotr Naskrecki, courtesy of Oregon State University)


Chris Marshall in Guyana

Chris Marshall strode through a Wai Wai village during an international expedition to Guyana in 2006. (Photo: Piotr Naskrecki, courtesy of Oregon State University)

Study: Forested riparian zones important to nitrogen control, stream health

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Human activities from agriculture to fossil fuel consumption have resulted in high levels of nitrates in many streams and rivers; now a new study suggests that nurturing riparian zone forests may be a key in maintaining healthy waterways.

Streams flowing through urban areas and agricultural lands may have some of the same ability to process nitrates as healthy forest streams – if they have adequate forest buffer zones along their banks, the researchers say.

Results of the research were just published the professional journal, Ecosystems.

“There are many important ways in which streamside trees help maintain healthy river systems,” said lead author Daniel Sobota, who conducted the research as part of his doctoral studies at Oregon State University. “The shade they offer may reduce the amount of sunlight reaching the stream, preventing excessive algae growth.

“Additionally, the leaves and woody debris generated by streamside forests hold the nitrogen and prevent it from being released downstream all at once,” added Sobota, whose Ph.D. was in fisheries and wildlife at OSU. “This ability of a stream to ‘take up’ the nitrogen can help reduce the impacts of nitrogen enrichment in human-altered river basins.”

In the study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, Sobota and his colleagues looked at nine streams in Oregon’s Willamette Valley that flowed through forest, agricultural or urban landscapes. Among their goals was to discover how much nitrogen was absorbed by the streams near the source, and how much went downriver.

In tests in Willamette Valley streams, the researchers discovered that 21 to 72 percent of nitrates entering the waterway could be stored in leaves, wood and aquatic mosses within one kilometer downstream.

The inability of a stream or river to hold nitrogen can cause “eutrophication,” or excess algae growth that can die and lead to low-oxygen waters. Eutrophication has caused significant problems in the Gulf of Mexico where the Mississippi River drains, as well as in the Chesapeake Bay.

“Forested riparian buffers can help delay nitrogen from going downstream so there isn’t a large influx at one time that could trigger harmful algal blooms,” Sobota said. “From a management perspective, that is a desirable trait.”

Rivers also can process nitrogen naturally through a process called “denitrification.” When oxygen levels in the water are low, bacteria will consume nitrogen instead and release it into the atmosphere – mostly as a harmless gas, Sobota pointed out. However, previous studies by researchers at OSU and the U.S. Forest Service found that the Oregon streams in their study have lower-than-average rates of denitrification.

The reason is a combination of high-gradient streams, oxygenated water and porous streambeds, which are not conducive to denitrification, said Sherri Johnson, a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service and a courtesy professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU.

“A lot of streams in Oregon have subsurface water flowing beneath the streambed through the gravel,” said Johnson, also an author on the Ecosystems article. “This ‘hyporheic’ flow intermixes with the river water and limits the anaerobic processes.”

Linda Ashkenas, a senior faculty research assistant in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at OSU and an author on the study, said maintaining complex river channels is also important to stream health.

“Human impacts on rivers have eliminated many of the braids and channels that existed naturally, causing water to flow downstream faster, carrying nitrates with it,” Ashkenas said. “River systems that are more complex slow the water down and give organisms time to filter out the nitrogen.”

Sobota is working with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency office on the OSU campus as a National Research Council post-doctoral researcher. The Ecosystems study is part of a large, multi-institution project called Lotic Intersite Nitrogen Experiment II, or LINX II.

Story By: 

Daniel Sobota, 541-754-4833

Corvallis Science Pub to feature Engineers Without Borders, Beavers Without Borders

CORVALLIS, Ore. – At the Oct. 10 Corvallis Science Pub, two Oregon State University groups will describe their efforts to bring shelter and clean water to people in developing countries.

Jordan Machtelinckx, emeritus president of OSU’s Engineers Without Borders chapter, will discuss the challenges of providing safe drinking water to rural communities in El Salvador and Kenya. Taylor Kavanaugh, a 2010 OSU engineering graduate and representative of Beavers Without Borders, will describe the group’s effort to build housing in Guatemala, Macedonia and other countries.

The program begins at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli, 341 Second St., in downtown Corvallis. It is free and open to the public.

In much of the world, lack of access to potable water is a major public health problem. More than a million children die annually from water-related diseases, according to the World Health Organization. “Engineers Without Borders is a chance for students to combine technical and social knowledge to provide basic human needs to some of the more remote communities around the world,” Machtelinckx said.

Starting in 2006, OSU students undertook the challenge of providing clean water to a remote mountain village in El Salvador. They installed a rainwater catchment system and a gravity-fed network that delivers filtered spring water to a school. In 2010, they shifted their focus to Lela, Kenya, a community of about 400 people who lack access to clean water year around. During annual droughts, they must walk for miles to reach available supplies.

Beavers Without Borders, sponsored by the OSU Department of Intercollegiate Athletics, got under way in 2010, when athletes representing soccer, gymnastics, football, basketball and other sports traveled to Alotenango, Guatemala, to build a new house for a family living in a make-shift shelter. The organization sent another group to Macedonia last spring and has plans to do construction projects in Haiti, Cambodia and Ethiopia.

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


Story By: 

Jordan Machtelinckx, 503-734-7929

Insect identification website takes wing at OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new online tool being developed at Oregon State University uses interactive pattern recognition technology to help researchers quickly and accurately identify species of moths and butterflies.

Jeff Miller, a professor in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences, and colleague Hans Luh, a senior research associate with the university's Integrated Plant Protection Center, are the creators of the tool, called Lepidoptera Wing Pattern Identification System, or LepWing ID. This pilot project allows users to compare a digital image of a specimen against a library of more than 1,600 photos.

Those images are just a fraction of the roughly 150,000 species of moths and butterflies that have been identified worldwide, but LepWing ID (http://ipmnet.org/lepid) still represents a significant improvement in identification. Compared to thumbing though a paper field guide to put a name to a particular species, the system offers a much faster and more accurate way of identifying moths and butterflies, Miller said. It is the first free, digital tool for identification available to both scientists and the general public.

Though still in its early phases, LepWing ID will be a valuable resource for scientists, as the winged insects are an indicator species of overall ecosystem health. Once the library is expanded, the system also has the potential to be used for non-research purposes. For instance, an agricultural inspector who finds a moth in a load of imported fruit could look up the insect in LepWing ID and determine if it is new to the region, and whether it is a pest or a beneficial.

"It would expedite the response to finding a new insect, perhaps by as much as one whole season, which could make a big difference in responding with appropriate management tactics," Miller said.  

LepWing ID works by matching a color pattern on a specific section of the wing to the same wing section in library images. Users also have the option of selecting certain traits, such as the dominant color of the specimen, from a menu to narrow down possible matches. Results are displayed in descending order, with the most probable matches displaying first. Because there are multiple photos of most species, the system might return the same species several times. But that's a good thing, Miller said, because it reassures the user that the results are accurate.

Users don't even need to have the specimen in hand to use the system: they can upload a computer-made illustration or even a hand-drawn cartoon of what they've glimpsed and LepWing ID will be able to search for potential matches, Miller said.

Miller took many of the photographs of moths and butterflies that make up the system's library, and he continues to add images to increase the tool's accuracy. He hopes LepWing ID will someday have tens of thousands of images to match against an uploaded photo of an unknown species.

Because LepWing ID is free, it's also a tool for the casual gardener or naturalist who is curious about the butterfly out in the garden.

In the future, Miller and Luh envision the LepWing ID model could be used to identify species of stink bugs, beetles, ticks, bees – even plants.

"I think the use is wide-reaching in biology," Miller said.


Jeffrey Miller, 541-737-5508

New Western Region Sun Grant Director named

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has named John Talbott as the new director of the Western Region Sun Grant program, through which he will oversee Sun Grant operations in nine states and several Pacific islands. His appointment is effective immediately.

The Sun Grant Initiative is a national network of land grant universities researching the development of bioenergy – energy derived from agricultural products instead of petroleum. OSU coordinates the Western Region Center.

Sun Grant's goal is to increase environmental sustainability, economic development, and national energy security. The organization awards competitive grants to researchers for projects to develop renewable alternative bio-based energies. Bill Boggess has directed the western region since 2008, while maintaining his position as executive associate dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. He will remain involved with Sun Grant at the national level.

"One of the drivers for bringing John in is that the Sun Grant program has matured; it's ready for a full-time director," Boggess said. "We're expecting John to do things we've never had the resources to do, such as building our working partnerships with federal research agencies, private firms, and related state agencies throughout the western region."

Talbott, who is finishing his public policy Ph.D. dissertation at Virginia Tech, has a diverse background that includes time as a wildlife ecologist, ranch hand, private consultant and county and state agency administrator. For the past five years, he has been deputy director and project manager of the Big Sky Carbon Sequestration Partnership headquartered at Montana State University, a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy working to find ways to capture and permanently store greenhouse gasses.

Priorities for the Western Region Sun Grant program include enhancing and developing alternative feedstock, the plant material used to make bioenergy; creating energy-efficient agricultural operations; and producing sustainable aviation biofuels. Boggess said there has been a renewed demand for both commercial and military aviation biofuels.

OSU recently participated in an effort, led by several major airlines and other aviation stakeholders, which resulted in an outline to develop a sustainable aviation biofuels industry in the Pacific Northwest.

Talbott's work in his new position may be driven by this increase in interest.

"It's going to be incumbent on Sun Grant, OSU and the other universities to work with producers themselves," Talbott said. "How do we supply them with the knowledge and economic security necessary to change their agricultural operations to focus on feedstock for biofuel?"

As an avid outdoorsman, Talbott is familiar with rural communities and the challenges they face.  He said the Sun Grant position will allow him to have a stake in aiding those places.

"Here's a chance to do something both for the environment and the environmental policy and at the same time really spur some sustainable economic growth in these rural communities," he said. "I find that really intriguing and a really exciting challenge."


Bill Boggess, 541-737-1395

Analysis of 500-year-old salmon finds importance of smaller juveniles

NEWPORT, Ore. – Chinook salmon reared in the upper stretches of the Columbia River watershed 250 to 500 years ago used to leave their freshwater habitat and enter the estuary – and possibly even the Pacific Ocean – when they were smaller and younger than most of their contemporary counterparts.

Researchers tracking the life history of salmon long before dams were built on the Columbia say the finding suggests that fisheries leaders may need to manage for a diversity of life histories.

Results of the research have been published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries.

“The Columbia River estuary is an amazingly productive system and there clearly are advantages for fish to enter into that environment,” said Jessica Miller, an Oregon State University ecologist and lead author on the study. “Yet today fish remain in fresh water for a longer period of time – possibly because they must navigate past the dams, and because river flows during their ocean migration have been reduced with the development of the hydropower system.

“Chinook salmon have a more diverse portfolio than other salmon species, which may be one reason some of their populations are doing so well,” Miller added. “Managing the resource to retain that diversity seems like a logical strategy.”

“We know there are advantages for the salmon to reach a certain size before entering the ocean, especially in avoiding prey,” Miller pointed out. “But there may be long-term advantages to having individuals that migrate at a diversity of sizes.”

To learn more about ancient salmon runs, the researchers worked with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville in Washington, where they obtained the skeletal remains of salmon from a former archaeological site just downriver from Grand Coulee Dam. The fish, which the scientists dated to 250-500 years ago, were in an area of the Columbia River which is no longer accessible to migrating fish because of the dams.

One goal of the research was to see if fish that used to go upstream of Chief Joseph Dam – the farthest upriver that salmon and steelhead return – had different characteristics than present-day fish. To do this, they looked at the bony structure within the salmon’s ears called an “otolith,” which accretes calcium carbonate and forms growth rings. By examining the growth rings and isotopes within otoliths, scientists can ascertain the age of a fish, where it lived and sometimes what it has eaten.

“It’s pretty amazing that we can look at the otolith of a 500-year-old fish and determine which river it likely originated in and at what size it entered marine waters,” said Miller, an assistant professor of fisheries and wildlife who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

They do this by analyzing the ratio of strontium-to-calcium isotopes in the otolith. A high ratio indicates a fish has been living in salt water, while a lower ratio suggests recent freshwater history. They also can examine two isotopes of strontium, which can provide information on the river of origin.

“We can also estimate where in the river system they were, because as you move east to west, the rocks get younger and the strontium values change,” Miller said. “In most cases, the isotopic signature is extraordinarily revealing.”

Miller also was lead author on another study, published in the Marine Ecology Progress Series, which examined diversity of fish runs in modern populations. Focusing on Central Valley (California) Chinook salmon, the study determined that adult fish typically had begun their juvenile migration in two “pulses.”

A majority of adults had begun their seaward migration as larger juveniles (75 millimeters or longer), which typically leave rivers in mid-April to May. But the adult sample also contained fish that had begun their emigration as smaller fish (less than 55 mm). Though fewer in numbers, these smaller fish were still significant and typically left rivers in February and March.

“In the Central Valley, the vast majority of hatchery production is focused on larger juveniles, whereas most of the naturally produced fish appear to emigrate at a smaller size,” Miller said. “Similar to the variation in adult run timing – which may protect runs against catastrophic floods, drought or disease – variation in the timing of juvenile migration to the ocean may be important for long-term survival.”

Other researchers on the Canadian Journal of Fisheries study include Virginia Butler, Portland State University; Charles Simenstad, University of Washington; David Backus, Williams College; and Adam Kent, OSU.

Story By: 

Jessica Miller, 541-867-0381

Earth-friendly technologies to be discussed at Greener Nano conference

CUPERTINO, Calif – Despite increasing awareness of the demand for environmentally safe consumer products, barriers for commercial production remain – a dichotomy especially severe in the rapidly growing field of nanotechnology.

To address this situation, the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute (ONAMI) and the Safer Nanomaterials and Manufacturing Initiative (SSNI) will host the Greener Nano 2011 Conference and Workshop May 1-3 in California. The events will be at the Hotel Valencia in San Jose and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s site in Cupertino.

"There is a national push to think about the safe development of nanotech from its conception," said Robert Tanguay, a professor of molecular toxicology in Oregon State University's College of Agricultural Sciences, and a leader in national initiatives for safety in nanotechnology. "There is a shift toward greening the technology right out of the gate, rather than as an afterthought. It's the difference in proactive versus reactive design in safer technologies."

Nanotechnologies have experienced rapid growth in the last decade, and nanoparticles are now found in consumer products ranging from laundry soap to eyeliner. However, their environmental impact is largely unknown, and increasingly controversial.

A recent study from Queen's University found that the silver nanoparticles used in many consumer products may harm beneficial soil bacteria, potentially resulting in a hostile environment for plants. While it remains unclear if these effects were directly caused by silver nanoparticles, it is known that most products in commerce have not had the advantage of being designed from the ground up with a mind toward greener innovation, said Tanguay.

The upcoming workshop and conference will bring together policymakers, industry, students and researchers to discuss advancing a "greener" nanotechnology. Plenary speaker for the conference is  Stanley Williams, senior fellow at Hewlett-Packard Laboratories and founding director of the HP Quantum Science Research Group. He will discuss the sustainable development of nanotechnology in the next decades.

More information on the conference is available at http://oregonstate.edu/conferences/event/greenernano/index.htm

About the Oregon Nanoscience and Microtechnologies Institute: ONAMI is the first Signature Research Center for the advancement of research toward the commercialization of innovative technology within Oregon and the Northwest. It represents an unprecedented collaboration between Oregon's three public research universities - University of Oregon, Oregon State University, Portland State University - and the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the state of Oregon, and the region's high-technology industries.


Robert Tanguay, 541-737-6514

Bill Gates Sr. to speak at Oct. 19 ARCS Foundation Scholar Awards Luncheon in Portland

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Bill Gates, Sr., co-chair of The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, will be the keynote speaker for the ARCS Foundation Portland Chapter’s 2010 Scholar Awards Luncheon Oct. 19 at the Portland Art Museum.

Gates will speak on “Making a Difference: The Value of Philanthropy in Education,” particularly fitting as the Portland Chapter of ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) will cross the $1-million mark for awards to graduate students in science and engineering at Oregon Health & Science University and Oregon State University this year.

“Gates has been a long-time supporter of ARCS both in Seattle and nationally,” said Caron Ogg, president of the Portland Chapter of ARCS . “In fact, it was a grant from the Gates Foundation that helped to launch the Portland Chapter six years ago.”

Also speaking will be Clayton Winkler, an ARCS Scholar and Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Neuroscience at OHSU, who will discuss his research on treating progressive neurological disease with a simple sugar.

At the Oct. 19 luncheon, 10 new ARCS Scholar Awards will be given to OHSU students and five to OSU students.  These scholars join 77 outstanding men and women ARCS scholars, collectively, currently studying at both institutions.

“The ARCS Foundation’s engagement with OSU and support of our students has been both gratifying and of great benefit to some very worthy young scholars ,” said Edward J. Ray, president of Oregon State University. “We are proud to be partners with the Portland Chapter and, along with OHSU, to be beneficiaries of the chapter’s vision and generosity in advancing scientific education and innovation.”

The ARCS Foundation was established in 1958 in Los Angeles by a group of women committed to keeping American technologically strong and internationally competitive. There currently are 17 ARCS chapters nationwide – all dedicated to advancing science in America through the provision of financial support to outstanding U.S. citizens completing graduate degrees in natural science, medicine and engineering.

For further information about the ARCS Foundation Portland Chapter or the October 19 luncheon, call (503) 297-8603 or email Portland@arcsfoundation.org.


Creative writers sought for fall residency at Andrews Forest

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Applications are being sought from writers interested in a one-week fall residency at the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest.

The residency is part of the Long-Term Ecological Reflections program, which brings together writers, humanists and scientists to create a living, growing record of the forest and the relation of people to the forest.

Creative writers whose work in any genre reflects a keen awareness of the natural world and an appreciation for both scientific and literary ways of knowing are invited to apply. In 2003, the Spring Creek Project at Oregon State University, in collaboration with the Andrews Forest Long-Term Ecological Research Group, began inviting writers to spend weeklong residencies at the forest in order to provide ways of observing the land that complement the ways of science.

Last year’s writer-in-residence, Scott Russell Sanders, wrote an essay called “Mind in the Forest” during his stay. That essay, published in Orion magazine, was recently awarded the John Burroughs Award for an Outstanding Published Nature Essay.

Two earlier pieces of writing inspired by the Andrews Forest residencies also have appeared in Orion: Robert Michael Pyle’s “The Long Haul” (September/October 2004) and Alison Hawthorne Deming’s “The Web” (March/April 2007).

For the Andrews Forest residencies, writers are provided an apartment, access to the ancient forest and well-known research site, interaction with scientists, opportunities to have their writings included in The Forest Log, and an honorarium of $250. Specific dates for week-long residencies during September, October, or November can be negotiated around the writer’s schedule and availability of space. 

The application deadline is May 15. For complete application requirements, go to http://springcreek.oregonstate.edu/residencies.html#AndrewsResidency

Information about the Andrews Experimental Forest is available at http://andrewsforest.oregonstate.edu/

Story By: 

Charles Goodrich, (541) 737-6198