OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

Slow but Reasonably Sure: Burned Forest Lands Regenerate Naturally

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study of forest lands that burned in the 1990s in northern California and southwestern Oregon has concluded there is a “fair to excellent” chance that an adequate level of conifers will regenerate naturally, in sites that had no manual planting or other forest management.

The research, to be published Wednesday in the Journal of Forestry by scientists from Oregon State University, examined the recovery of conifers on 35 plots that had burned in wildfires from nine to 19 years ago, and generally found a high level of naturally regenerating tree seedlings.

Although the abundance of natural regeneration appeared to be variable and growth often slow, there was no evidence of recent conifer mortality or suppression leading to seedling death.

Total conifer density and the types of tree species varied quite a bit depending on elevation, but the density of surviving conifer seedlings was as much or more than typical densities in 60- to 100-year-old stands in this region, which is about 100 to 1,000 trees per acre. Traditional old growth forests of this region, with trees 250 or more years old, often had as few as 20-40 large trees per acre.

About 10 percent of the plots studied already had larger trees that were considered “free to grow” by forestry standards. The scientists said the height of competing shrubs had “quite likely” slowed after one or two decades, and “we predict that conifer mortality will remain low and height growth will accelerate as individuals continue to emerge above the shrub layer.” The study also showed that trees would regenerate at considerable distances from seed sources.

“The natural regeneration on many of these sites is actually much higher than needed to restore a forest,” said Jeff Shatford, a senior faculty research assistant in the OSU Department of Forest Science. “We expect that the high density of young trees we observed will thin out naturally over time.”

The authors said in their report that “assertions that burned areas, left unmanaged, will remain unproductive for some indefinite period, seem unwarranted.” Short-term delays in conifer regeneration and a broader range of recovering plant and animal species may also have benefits in terms of varied tree size, plant biodiversity, and wildlife habitat.

“When left to natural regeneration in this region, it appears that conifers may come back more slowly and with more variation than with conventional forest management, but in most cases they do come back,” said David Hibbs, co-author of the report and a professor of forest ecology and silviculture in the OSU Department of Forest Science. “There may be some cases, especially on the lowest, hottest, south-facing slopes, where that is not true.

“But at most elevations and in most situations, natural conifer regeneration appears to be working.”

Whether lands should be planted and weed competition controlled is more a question of short-term timber production, tree species control and forest management goals than the regeneration of the forest, the scientists said.

The sites picked for this study all met several criteria: They had gone through a hot, canopy-replacing wildfire from nine to 19 years ago, more than 90 percent of the trees were killed in the fire, and there was no post-fire salvage logging or tree planting. The sites were on the Klamath, Rogue/Siskiyou or Umpqua National Forests.

Conifer trees that naturally regenerated were dominated by Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine at lower elevations, and true firs at higher elevations. There was considerable variation in the regeneration process. Some sites filled in immediately. Others had a few years delay, then rapid filling; some were slow but constant; and a few sites never filled. Surprising to researchers was that up to 19 years after a fire, there was still some new and locally dominant conifer regeneration.

Seed was provided by patches of surviving trees or nearby unburned forest, which were rarely more than a few hundred yards from fire-killed trees. The relationship of shrub competition with tree seedlings also was surprising. On low and middle elevation sites, there were actually more conifers where there was more shrub and hardwood cover; what favored one group also seemed to favor the other. At higher elevations, shrub cover was less of an issue and the abundance of conifer regeneration was conspicuously high. At some high-elevation sites, trees continued to establish in great numbers – even many years after the fire.

In continued research, OSU scientists said they plan to study more specifically what sites will grow into mature forests and what species will persist there, and also more directly compare the progress of natural regeneration with that of managed sites.

This study was funded by the Joint Fire Science Program, a partnership of six federal wildland, fire and research organizations.

Fire suppression and fuel buildups, among other possible causes, have led to an increasing frequency and severity of forest fire in the western United States, the researchers said. Between 1970 and 2004, more than 600 wildfires burned more than 20 million acres in Oregon and California. The 2002 Biscuit Fire, in terrain similar to where this research was done, was one of the largest fires in Oregon’s recorded history.

The recovery of burned lands after wildfire, and whether active management is necessary, has become a point of considerable interest and controversy in recent years. Some studies have argued that, in the absence of aggressive management, burned areas might turn into unproductive shrub fields that could persist for decades or centuries.

“In contrast to expectations, we found natural conifer regeneration to be generally abundant across a variety of settings,” the scientists wrote in the new study. “Management plans can benefit greatly from utilizing natural conifer regeneration, but managers must face the challenge of long regeneration periods, and be able to accommodate high levels of variation across the landscape of a fire.”

Media Contact: 
Source: 

David Hibbs,
541-737-6077

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Doug fir burn
Eleven years after the Pony Fire, a young Douglas-fir tree pokes its way through brush fields in one of the plots surveyed by a new Oregon State University study on the natural recovery of conifers in areas previously hit by wildfire. Daniel Irvine, an OSU environmental science student, worked on the project in this part of the Klamath National Forest in northern California in 2006. (Photo courtesy of Oregon State University)

Insect Attack May Have Been Death Knell for Dinosaurs

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Asteroid impacts or massive volcanic flows might have occurred around the time dinosaurs became extinct, but a new book argues that the mightiest creatures the world has ever known may have been brought down by a tiny, much less dramatic force – biting, disease-carrying insects.

An important contributor to the demise of the dinosaurs, experts say, could have been the rise and evolution of insects, especially the slow-but-overwhelming threat posed by new disease carriers. And the evidence for this emerging threat has been captured in almost lifelike-detail – many types of insects preserved in amber that date to the time when dinosaurs disappeared.

“There are serious problems with the sudden impact theories of dinosaur extinction, not the least of which is that dinosaurs declined and disappeared over a period of hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years,” said George Poinar Jr., a courtesy professor of zoology at Oregon State University. “That time frame is just not consistent with the effects of an asteroid impact. But competition with insects, emerging new diseases and the spread of flowering plants over very long periods of time is perfectly compatible with everything we know about dinosaur extinction.”

This concept is outlined in detail in “What Bugged the Dinosaurs? Insects, Disease and Death in the Cretaceous,” a book by George and Roberta Poinar, just published by Princeton University Press.

In it, the authors argue that insects provide a plausible and effective explanation for the slow, inexorable decline and eventual extinction of dinosaurs over many thousands of years. This period is known as the famous “K-T Boundary,” or the line between the Cretaceous and Tertiary Period about 65 million years ago. There is evidence that some catastrophic events, such as a major asteroid or lava flows, also occurred at this time – but these provide no complete explanation for the gradual decline of dinosaur populations, and even how some dinosaurs survived for thousands of years after the K-T Boundary.

Insects and disease, on the other hand, may have been a lot slower, but ultimately finished the job.

“We don’t suggest that the appearance of biting insects and the spread of disease are the only things that relate to dinosaur extinction,” Poinar said. “Other geologic and catastrophic events certainly played a role. But by themselves, such events do not explain a process that in reality took a very, very long time, perhaps millions of years. Insects and diseases do provide that explanation.”

Poinar and his wife, Roberta, have spent much of their careers studying the plant and animal life forms found preserved in amber, using them to re-create the biological ecosystems that were in place millions of years ago. They are also authors of “The Amber Forest: A Reconstruction of a Vanished World.”

As a semi-precious gem that first begins to form as sap oozing from a tree, amber has the unique ability to trap very small animals or other materials and – as a natural embalming agent – display them in nearly perfect, three-dimensional form millions of years later. This phenomenon has been invaluable in scientific and ecological research, and among other things, formed the scientific premise for the movie Jurassic Park, for the "dinosaur DNA" found in mosquitoes.

“During the late Cretaceous Period, the associations between insects, microbes and disease transmission were just emerging,” Poinar said. “We found in the gut of one biting insect, preserved in amber from that era, the pathogen that causes leishmania – a serious disease still today, one that can infect both reptiles and humans. In another biting insect, we discovered organisms that cause malaria, a type that infects birds and lizards today.

“In dinosaur feces, we found nematodes, trematodes and even protozoa that could have caused dysentery and other abdominal disturbances. The infective stages of these intestinal parasites are carried by filth-visiting insects.”

In the Late Cretaceous, Poinar said, the world was covered with warm-temperate to tropical areas that swarmed with blood-sucking insects carrying leishmania, malaria, intestinal parasites, arboviruses and other pathogens, and caused repeated epidemics that slowly-but-surely wore down dinosaur populations. Ticks, mites, lice and biting flies would have tormented and weakened them.

“Smaller and separated populations of dinosaurs could have been repeatedly wiped out, just like when bird malaria was introduced into Hawaii, it killed off many of the honeycreepers,” Poinar said. “After many millions of years of evolution, mammals, birds and reptiles have evolved some resistance to these diseases. But back in the Cretaceous, these diseases were new and invasive, and vertebrates had little or no natural or acquired immunity to them. Massive outbreaks causing death and localized extinctions would have occurred.”

In similar fashion, the researchers suggest, insects would have played a major role in changing the nature of plant life on Earth – the fundamental basis for all dinosaur life, whether herbivore, omnivore or carnivore. As the dinosaurs were declining, their traditional food items such as seed ferns, cycads, gingkoes and other gymnosperms were largely being displaced by flowering plants, which insects helped spread by their pollination activities. These plants would have spread to dominate the landscape. Also, insects could have spread plant diseases that destroyed large tracts of vegetation, and the insects could have been major competitors for the available plant food supply.

“Insects have exerted a tremendous impact on the entire ecology of the Earth, certainly shaping the evolution and causing the extinction of terrestrial organisms,” the authors wrote in their book. “The largest of the land animals, the dinosaurs, would have been locked in a life-or-death struggle with them for survival.”

The confluence of new insect-spread diseases, loss of traditional food sources, and competition for plants by insect pests could all have provided a lingering, debilitating condition that dinosaurs were ultimately unable to overcome, the researchers say. And these concerns – which might have pressured the dinosaurs for thousands of years – may have finished the job, along with the changing environment, meteor impacts and massive lava flows.

“We can’t say for certain that insects are the smoking gun, but we believe they were an extremely significant force in the decline of the dinosaurs,” Poinar said. “Our research with amber shows that there were evolving, disease-carrying vectors in the Cretaceous, and that at least some of the pathogens they carried infected reptiles. This clearly fills in some gaps regarding dinosaur extinctions.”

Media Contact: 
Source: 

George Poinar, Jr.,
541-737-5366

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Burmese termite

Burmese termite

Burmese tick

Tick found in Burmese amber.

Mountain Logging Conference at OSU

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The 13th International Mountain Logging and Pacific Northwest Skyline Symposium will be held at Oregon State University on April 1-6, attracting experts from around the world to explore the latest innovations and approaches to mountain logging.

The professional conference, at the CH2M-Hill Alumni Center on the OSU campus, will include field tours, eight workshops, a poster and vendor session, and multiple presentations.

Participants are expected from Canada, Austria, Germany, France, Japan, Turkey, South Africa, Sweden and other nations, in addition to forestry professionals from much of the United States in academia, industry and government. The conference theme this year is “Global Competitiveness: Implications and Sustainable Approaches for Mountain Forest Harvesting.”

Focus topics include logging innovations to reduce cost or improve value; forest road and transportation management; harvest planning; environmental quality in mountain logging; biomass utilization for energy and biofuels; and workforce issues.

Mountain forests – such as those that dominate much of the Pacific Northwest – are valuable sources of wood, water, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities and scenic quality. The latest knowledge in forest engineering techniques is necessary to meet societal demands for wood products while protecting and enhancing other forest features. This conference is of considerable value in achieving those goals, organizers say.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Lesley Nylin,
541-737-1349

OSU Class Heading to Antarctica; Spots Open for Public

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University students and members of the public will have a unique opportunity to learn first-hand about the effects of climate change and human impacts on the environment in Antarctica during a special class that will take them to the remote continent for two weeks.

“This is a tremendous opportunity for undergraduate and graduate students, and the general public, to explore one of the most remote and least understood – yet most fascinating – regions on Earth,” said Michael Harte, director of OSU’s Marine Resource Management Program, who will lead the trip.

“The Antarctic is where the rubber meets the road, when it comes to global environmental change,” Harte added. “It is the proverbial canary in the coal mine.”

Participants in the field course will see how human impacts, both immediate and from afar, alter ecosystems on a global scale. By observing and studying these changes in a pristine environment, Harte said, the group will gain insight into potential environmental changes that may be in store for the Pacific Northwest, including declining snow packs, shrinking glaciers and changing vegetation patterns.

Changes in Antarctica may also affect Oregon even more directly, Harte pointed out.

“Vast ice shelves, some as large as small states, have collapsed in this region of Antarctica in the last decade due to climate change,” he said. “With these natural barriers gone, ice flows much faster into the southern ocean from the frozen continent’s ice fields. This new ice is a major contributor to the expected sea level rise that threatens our Pacific Northwest coastal communities many thousands of miles away.”

This Study Abroad program will leave for Antarctica in December 2008. Participants will study and conduct research on the Antarctic Peninsula and the tip of South America. Fieldwork will be carried out from a commercial Antarctic expedition vessel and Zodiacs, from which the participants will study Antarctic wildlife, search for signs of environmental change, and explore the impact of humans on a fragile environment.

The group also will spend four days exploring the natural and cultural systems of Tierra del Fuego on the South American continent.

Harte said he is especially excited about leading a diverse group of students and members of the public to the Antarctic Peninsula.

“This is an opportunity for us to collectively discover how interconnected our global environment is and how unsustainable activities in developed countries can have an impact on the remote ecosystems of the globe that, in turn, react in ways that threaten our own way of life.”

Students and members of the public who wish to go on the trip must sign up for the course by Feb. 15. Class size is limited to about 20 persons. Students may sign up for undergraduate or graduate sections.

Participants who sign up for the class will take an online course in fall term of 2008, taught by faculty at OSU and Gateway Antarctica in Christchurch, New Zealand. The program is offered through OSU, under the auspices of the American Universities International Programs. More information, including costs, is available at: http://oregonstate.edu/international/ by typing “Antarctica” in the search engine box. Or call Kristy Spikes at OSU’s International Programs at 541-737-3006.

“This hands-on, experiential learning program, in an area few people have a chance to visit, is an extraordinary opportunity,” Harte said.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Michael Harte,
541-737-1339

New Study: OSU Has $1.5-Billion ‘Economic Footprint’ Across Oregon

CORVALLIS, Ore. – By almost every measure, Oregon State University has charted significant growth as a research university in recent years. But a new study offers perhaps the most dramatic evidence of OSU’s impact: The university’s “economic footprint” is now $1.5 billion – 50 percent higher than it was just a decade ago.

The footprint is a key finding from “Oregon State University: An Economic Analysis,” completed recently by Bruce Sorte, a resource economist in the OSU College of Agriculture Sciences, and is a measure of total economic activity attributable to the university. It includes $675 million in revenue flowing into the university, nearly half of which comes from funding sources outside the state. It also includes nearly $114 million in annual spending from the university’s 19,753 students.

“We often point with great pride to the contributions that Oregon State University makes to the progress of science and to the education of our students, but less frequently recognize the impact that OSU has from an economic standpoint,” said OSU President Ed Ray, an economist himself. “As the state’s only institution rated in the most active tier of research universities by the Carnegie Foundation, we’re increasingly aware of our role as an economic catalyst and engine. The growth of that role over the past 10 years has been substantial, and we believe makes a strong case for the value of investing in this university.

“Simply put, every dollar of state general funds invested in OSU leverages nearly $10 in further support for the university and spending statewide.”

OSU is further responsible, the analysis says, for significant economic activity in each of Oregon’s 36 counties, charting a $1.165-million average economic impact per county (excluding Benton and Linn counties, home region for OSU’s main campus, where the university delivers nearly $250 million in value-added economic effects).

Part of the reason for the university’s widespread financial influence stems from the fact that OSU has a presence in every Oregon county, either through a research center, an extension office or an experiment station. Newport, for instance, is home to the Hatfield Marine Science Center, Portland features the Food Innovation Center (a joint project of OSU and the Oregon Department of Agriculture) and the Seafood Laboratory and Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station can be found in Astoria.

OSU economic output in each of those 36 counties ranges from more than a combined $652 million in Benton and Linn to $103,668 in Wheeler. Fifteen counties each show economic output related to OSU of more than $1 million. Furthermore, OSU expenditures led to some 16,000 full- and part-time jobs for Oregonians statewide.

The analysis hints that the actual county-by-county economic impacts are likely even higher than estimated: Because of the difficulty of measuring “with reasonable certainty” the amount of expenditures made in each county by OSU employees, “other payroll expenses,” such as health benefits and retirement pay, were not included in the calculations. OSU’s economic footprint was last measured in 1996. With inflation and adjustments for methodology, the 1996 economic activity would measure approximately $1 billion in today’s dollars. Over the last 10 years, OSU has grown significantly in enrollment, graduates per year, research funding and other key measures, increasing its economic activity by about $500 million or 50 percent.

“There are many ways to measure impact of an institution, but our economic impact is one that resonates with most everyone around Oregon,” said Rebecca Johnson, OSU vice provost for Academic Affairs and International Programs as well as an economics professor in the OSU College of Forestry who co-authored the 1996 study. "When the value of education is combined with the economic impacts of a major research university, people can have confidence that their investments in Oregon State are paying significant dividends."

The economic analysis study was completed, Sorte noted, with the assistance of co-author Nick Beleicks, a graduate student in agricultural and resource economics.

Source: 

Rebecca Johnson,
541-737-0732

'Nonlinear' Ecosystem Response Offers Options to Environmental Gridlock

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The preservation of coastal ecosystem services – such as clean water, storm buffers or fisheries protection – does not have to be an all-or-nothing approach, a new study indicates, and a better understanding of how ecosystems actually respond to protection efforts in a “nonlinear” fashion could help lead the way out of environmental-versus-economic gridlock.

There may be much better ways to provide the majority of environmental protection needed while still maintaining natural resource-based jobs and sustainable communities, scientists from 13 universities and research institutes will suggest Friday in a new article in the journal Science.

“The very concept of ecosystem-based management implies that humans are part of the equation, and their needs also have to be considered,” said Lori Cramer, an associate professor of sociology at Oregon State University.

“But ecosystem concerns have too often been viewed as an all-or-none choice, and it doesn’t have to be that way,” Cramer said. “What we are learning is that sometimes a little environmental protection can go a long way, and leave room for practical compromises.”

In their analysis, a diverse group of scientists from four nations analyzed the values and uses of mangrove forests in Thailand – a hot spot of concern about coastal ecosystems being degraded and losing their traditional value of storm protection, wood production and fish habitat. These saltwater forests are frequently being replaced with commercial shrimp farms.

In the past, the scientists said, it was often assumed that the environment responded to protection efforts in a “linear” fashion – in other words, protecting twice as much of a resource generated twice the amount of protection. But the new study and others like it are making it more clear that ecosystems respond in a “nonlinear” fashion – protection of a small percentage of a resource might result in a large percentage of the maximum benefit that can be gained.

If the data are available to help quantify goods and services, researchers say, values can be attached to them and used to reach societal compromises. This might lead to most – but not all – of an environmental resource being protected, and some – but not all – of resources available for commercial use. The combined value of the ecosystem protection and commercial development may approach, or even exceed the value of a “hands-off” approach.

“Part of the problem now is that a lot of the data we need to make this type of assessment simply isn’t available,” said Sally Hacker, an OSU associate professor of zoology. “Biological, economic and sociological data could be enormously helpful to reaching better management decisions, and this is something we need to improve.”

Fairly good data were available in the case of the Thailand mangrove forests, however, and researchers used it to make their case. On a given area of mangrove forest there, the assigned value of ecosystem services – storm protection, biological habitat, etc. – was determined to be about $19 million with a “hands-off” approach and no commercial use whatsoever.

But with a full range of uses, which included leaving 80 percent of the area in mangrove forests and gaining almost all of their flood protection ability, the value was found to be $17.5 million, Hacker said. And this allowed for a commercial shrimp fishery, gathering of wood products, fishing and other commercial uses.

“At some point we have to get beyond this ‘either-or’ mentality when it comes to land and ocean management,” Cramer said. “Insisting that our ecosystems be either totally protected, or totally developed, just leads to polarization, entrenched positions and a loss of communication. We can do better than that, and a good scientific approach can help show the way.”

In the final analysis, the researchers said, everything should be on the table – the value of ecosystem services, the protection of species and the environment, jobs, tourism, protection of human life, even cultural and community values.

“Shrimp farming may be a person’s livelihood, and that cannot be ignored,” Cramer said. “At the same time these mangrove forests help protect human lives and healthy ecosystems, and you can’t ignore that either. The good news is that when we understand the nonlinear nature of ecosystem response, some of these compromises become possible.”

The concepts being developed, the researchers said, are directly relevant to the debate over marine reserves in Oregon. The challenge there will be to balance an adequate amount of biological protection, and a careful analysis of the areas to be protected, with the needs and concerns of coastal communities, they said.

In like fashion, they said, such approaches may be relevant to many other societal debates – whether it’s health care or the preservation of protective marshes around New Orleans – in which values can be assigned to various services and compromises reached.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Sally Hacker,
541-737-3707

OSU study identifies best method for evaluating Measure 37 claims

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study comparing three methods for evaluating Measure 37 claims finds one method to be the most practical and consistent with the spirit of the law.

William Jaeger, an Oregon State University economist, examined three methods that governments might use to evaluate Measure 37 claims. Of those methods, Jaeger reported that comparing the market value of a property before the regulation went into effect with the market value of the property after the regulation went into effect is the most practical and reliable approach.

By requiring government officials to determine whether a land use regulation has reduced a property’s value, Measure 37 imposes an enormous burden on government, according to Jaeger.

“Measure 37 asks government to know the unknowable.” Jaeger said. “It asks what would the world look like if a particular land use regulation had not been enacted or enforced? And, how would land prices in that alternative world compare to land prices in the real world?

“Since land use regulations can affect market prices for regulated lands as well as unregulated lands, and because other forces are also at work in the economy, these are not easy questions to answer,” Jaeger said.

Jaeger, an economist in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences, examined three methods for evaluating Measure 37 claims based on three criteria: practicality or cost, logic or reasonableness, and the rate of correct answers for a variety of scenarios.

“A ‘correct answer’ means getting the same answer if we had perfect information about the causes and effects of all the different factors affecting the economy and could separate out those related to the land-use regulation,” Jaeger said.

He reported that the “with and without” method would require sophisticated computer models to simulate a world without a specific land use regulation and compare market prices for properties in the hypothetical world—without the regulation—to those in the real world — with the regulation.

“Although this kind of analysis could be highly successful in correctly evaluating Measure 37 claims, it would be prohibitively expensive,” Jaeger concluded.

The “single exemption” method considers the effect of waiving a land use regulation on an individual property. Although practical in its approach, Jaeger found this method to be based on flawed reasoning and ignores many direct and indirect ways that land use regulations can affect the market.

“Indeed, in many cases a single exemption estimate will produce a large, exaggerated calculation of loss, precisely because land use regulations have raised the value of land,” Jaeger explained.

The “before-and-after” method compares the market value of a property before the land use regulation went into effect with the market value of the property after the land use regulation went into effect. Jaeger found this method to be both practical and based on sound reasoning. It is the method currently being used by the Portland Metro Council to evaluate Measure 37 claims; it is also the method used to illustrate and defend the reasonableness of Measure 37 before the Oregon Supreme Court.

The full report, “Three Methods for Evaluating Measure 37 Claims,” (EM 8933-E) was published by Oregon State University Extension Service and may be viewed at: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/pdf/em/em8933-e.pdf

Source: 

William Jaeger,
541-737-1419
541-485-4660

OSU Launches ‘Oregon Wildlife Explorer’ Portal; Includes ‘Wildlife Viewer’

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon Explorer website, publicly launched to wide acclaim last year by Oregon State University, has an expansive new wildlife portal that allows users to find out about the Oregon Conservation Strategy and access a broad range of wildlife information for areas around the state.

The new “Oregon Wildlife Explorer” portal, http://www.oregonexplorer.info/wildlife, provides a single point of access for current and historic wildlife distribution maps, wildlife photos, local wildlife plans and other information. And like the rest of Oregon Explorer, it does so in an interactive and visual way that brings those elements to life.

“The Wildlife Explorer is a great resource for all Oregonians to reference, and will be particularly valuable for students and educators,” said Peg Boulay, coordinator of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation Strategy and the state wildlife grants coordinator.

“To successfully realize the benefits of the Conservation Strategy people need access to information on the species and habitats that are in need of conservation,” Boulay added.

Of immediate interest to Oregonians is a “Wildlife Viewer” that allows users to both create species lists for different places in Oregon and learn about individual species. “With the Wildlife Viewer, people can learn about the wildlife in their backyards or anywhere in the state,” said Jimmy Kagan, information program manager for the Oregon University System’s Institute for Natural Resources, which is based at OSU.

The wildlife data was developed by Oregon Natural Heritage Information Center at the INR and thus far includes information for more than 400 birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians in Oregon.

OSU Libraries and the INR worked in conjunction with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to create the new portal. The ODFW’s State Wildlife Grants program funded the project. The grant funds are provided to states by Congress through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Oregon Explorer is a natural resources digital library that enables users to quickly find, retrieve, integrate and synthesize geo-referenced information through a series of geographic and topic-based web portals. It has earned praise for the breadth and depth of information it makes available in ways that engage users ranging from school children to government and private industry professionals.

The Oregon Explorer website can be accessed at www.oregonexplorer.info

About the Oregon Conservation Strategy: The Oregon Conservation Strategy offers a proactive blueprint for the long-term conservation of Oregon’s native fish and wildlife and their habitats through a non-regulatory, statewide approach to conservation. It was developed by Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and a diverse coalition of Oregonians including scientists, landowners, extension services, anglers, hunters, conservation groups, and representatives from forestry, agriculture, and rangelands. To learn more about the Oregon Conservation Strategy, please contact Meg Kenagy, ODFW, Conservation Strategy Communications Coordinator, (503) 947-6021.

Source: 

Jimmy Kagan,
503-731-3070

Workshop Offers Information on Healthy Air in Homes

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A community workshop on “Healthy Air – Healthy Homes” will be held Tuesday, Jan. 29, at the meeting room of the Corvallis Public Library.

The event, sponsored by the Environmental Health Sciences Center at Oregon State University, will offer area residents an opportunity to learn about air quality hazards commonly found in homes, such as mold, carbon monoxide, and harmful chemicals. It will begin with refreshments at 5:30 p.m., and a workshop and activities from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

The presentation is free and open to the public and will focus on low-cost, simple changes people can take to improve the air in their homes.

“This will help inform people about sources of air hazards in the home and the health problems, such as asthma and allergies, which can be related to them,” said Sandra Uesugi, program coordinator of community outreach for the Environmental Health Sciences Center. “It’s a fun and casual presentation, and everyone will receive a guide and resources to take home.”

More information on the event can be found online at http://www.ehsc.orst.edu/outreach, or by calling 541-737-8105. The Corvallis Public Library is at 645 N.W. Monroe Ave.

The program is funded in part by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the HOPE Partnership.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Sandra Uesugi,
541-737-4374

Rapid Change in Ecosystems Challenges Species Surviva

CORVALLIS, Ore. – In a laboratory at Oregon State University, some giant water bugs are swimming happily in a small aquarium – the sole survivors of a population that had survived for thousands of years in a mountain stream near Tucson, Ariz., but during a severe 2004 drought went locally extinct.

These water bugs are similar, but not genetically identical, to many others in that region, and by themselves represent no ecological catastrophe. But conceptually, they are part of what ecologists fear may become far more common in the near future – species or populations that struggle and sometimes disappear because they cannot keep pace with rapidly changing climate or ecosystem conditions.

A recently published study on this phenomenon outlines how many species have a surprising ability to adapt to, evolve with and even depend on very different climatic and ecological conditions – cycles of fire, flood, drought or other events – but sometimes simply cannot survive if the changes are too rapid or unpredictable.

“The more we study natural disturbance regimes, it becomes clear that species can adapt if the disturbances are consistent and take place over a long enough period of time,” said David Lytle, an entomologist and OSU assistant professor of zoology. “But the key question is the pace and speed of evolutionary change, and whether the species can keep up. In many cases, we are now finding that they cannot.”

The findings, Lytle said, are relevant to everything from waterbugs in desert streams to salmon in the Pacific Northwest and thousands of species in between, both aquatic and terrestrial. The study was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society – B.

In this research, scientists examined the behavior and survival of a giant water bug, Abedus herberti, in the Sky Islands mountain ranges of southern Arizona, where isolated populations of these flightless aquatic insects have lived for tens of thousands of years. The insects have evolved the ability to use rainfall as a cue and leave the streams during major flooding events, escaping destruction.

However, some of the separated populations lived in canyons where flash floods were often caused by distant storms, which provided no warning that a flash flood was coming. The research found that they would get periodically wiped out by these floods and have to slowly re-populate the area.

“Where the insects had any type of indicator that floods were imminent, such as heavy rain, they had evolved a behavior to deal with it,” Lytle said. “But where the events were just too sudden and unpredictable, they periodically just got wiped out.”

This is one of the first studies that has documented a species’ ability to adapt to threatening circumstances, given adequate cues and enough evolutionary time, Lytle said. It also points out the vulnerability of species to unpredictable or rapidly changing events, even if they have been happening for thousands of years.

The implications, he said, may hit fairly close to home in Oregon if a warming climate causes more winter precipitation to fall as rain, instead of snow, as has been predicted.

“Many Oregon aquatic species have evolved over thousands or millions of years to expect certain types of events, such as summer droughts and spring floods due to snowmelt,” Lytle said. “If these systems change fairly suddenly, it’s reasonable to believe there will be some widespread ecological impacts. You would expect that some species will not be able to keep pace, and may become at least locally extinct.”

The drought that destroyed the water bug population in Arizona’s French Joe Canyon, Lytle said, appeared to be as severe as anything in hundreds of years. It’s not certain what the underlying cause of the dried-up streams were, he said, but climate change and declining groundwater levels due to human water use are reasonable suspects.

Salmon, Lytle said, are another species whose ecology – spawning, emergence from larval stage, migration - is closely tied to predictable water flow events. At least one factor in their decline could clearly be the increasingly unpredictable and changing nature of Pacific Northwest stream systems, he said. And many terrestrial species could be affected by such things as the changing fire regimes in Pacific Northwest forests, he said.

In earlier research, OSU studies have also found that the link between disturbance events and species survival is so tight that many species depend on these disturbances – whether they are periodic floods, windstorms, or droughts – as part of their basic ecology and survival. Changes in those disturbance events can open to the door to invasive species with different ecological requirements, the research showed.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

David Lytle,
541-737-1068