environment and natural resources

New Studies Highlight Concern over Rising Jellyfish Populations

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Jellyfish populations appear to be increasing along the West Coast and in the Bering Sea and scientists studying the phenomenon are concerned because jellyfish may feed on the same plankton species targeted by herring, sardines and anchovies, juveniles salmon and other fishes.

Compounding the situation, the scientists say, is that there are few predators for adult jellyfish.

“A few birds and fish will eat the jellies in their larval or juvenile stages,” said Richard D. Brodeur, a NOAA biologist and adjunct professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University. “But once the medusae reach a certain size, not much eats them.”

Newly published studies by Brodeur, OSU oceanographer Lorenzo Ciannelli and others are looking at the link between climate change and jellyfish populations and they have found this relationship is complex. The prevailing school of thought has been that as ocean waters warm, jellyfish populations will increase. But they have discovered that food sources, reproduction dynamics and ocean currents all play a role in jellyfish populations.

In a paper just published in Progress in Oceanography, the scientists describe a steep increase in jellyfish populations in the Bering Sea through the 1990s, peaking in the summer of 2000. But during the years of 2001 through 2005, when scientists recorded some of the warmest temperatures ever in the Bering Sea, jellyfish populations declined.

“They were still well ahead of their historic averages for that region,” said Ciannelli, an assistant professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. “But clearly jellyfish populations are not merely a function of water temperature.”

One key to learning more about jellyfish expansion has been Ciannelli’s work looking into the organisms’ complex life cycle. Adult males release their sperm into the water column and fertilize the eggs that female adults have released. From each fertilized egg, a larva is produced that attaches itself to a rock or some other solid surface and produces a polyp. These polyps reproduce asexually and eventually the young medusae detach themselves and begin the life cycle anew.

The researchers’ preliminary findings suggest that warmer ocean waters may enhance the stage where polyps transform into colonies, but that hypothesis is based on lab work, not field research. The reason, Ciannelli says, is that polyps are notoriously difficult to locate because of their small size.

“We think that higher temperatures lead to a higher metabolic rate and faster division of cells,” he said. “It accelerates the whole system. But finding polyps in the Bering Sea is like trying to do research on the dark side of the moon.”

Ciannelli and his colleagues are funded by the National Science Foundation to better understand how these polyps are distributed. One hypothesis is that there is a single unique source that produces the small jellyfish in the Bering Sea and their expansion is a product of currents. An alternative theory is that the jellyfish are using pockets of warm water to establish new colonies, which would be consistent with global warming scenarios, he said.

“What we’re trying to figure out is where the energy of the food web is going,” Ciannelli pointed out. “If it is going to the jellyfish, which are eating the plankton, it creates an overall sink because they have few predators. It is diverting the energy of the ocean from the pelagic to the benthic system.”

Scientists have begun looking more closely at food sources for jellyfish off the West Coast of the United States and their findings are surprising. In a paper published in the April 2008 issue of the Marine Ecology Progress Series, a team of scientists including Brodeur quantified diet and predation rates for large jellyfish from an upwelling region in the northern California Current. They found that in an area north of Cape Blanco, Ore., abundant populations of jellyfish ate an average of one-third of all the euphausiid – a type of zooplankton – eggs available each day. Consumption of other taxa reached 10 to 12 percent of the standing stocks.

On the other hand, copepods, important components of the marine food web, were consumed at relatively low levels – less than 1 percent a day. Lead author on that study was Cynthia L. Suchman, who conducted her research out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore., where Brodeur works.

Few scientists are conducting long-term jellyfish studies and the authors suggest that zooplankton studies and predation impacts by jellyfish should be incorporated into long-term studies and ecosystem models. “Unfortunately,” Brodeur said, “there hasn’t been a great deal of funding for jellyfish studies, so we don’t know as much as we should about their impact.”

Trawl surveys by Brodeur and his colleagues found that the spatial overlap between jellyfish and most pelagic fishes, including salmon, was relatively small. But in a forthcoming article in Marine Biology, the researchers point out that the overlap with “planktivorous” fishes that consume copepods and euphausiid eggs – including Pacific sardines, the northern anchovy, Pacific saury, and Pacific herring – was considerable. These prey species also are critical to the diets of salmon and other species in the ocean.

“We’ve been collecting data now for about nine years and it appears, at least on a preliminary basis, that when cold water regimes are prevalent, jellyfish numbers increase,” Brodeur said. “During the warmer years, when food sources are scarcer, there may be fewer jellyfish, but they grow quickly – whether because of elevated metabolic rates or less competition, we don’t know.”

This summer Brodeur will be involved in a series of cruises off the Oregon coast to sample jellyfish populations and see what effect this year’s cold-water La Niña phenomenon may have had.

“It won’t be a good sign for the ecosystem if we get a lot of jellies out there,” he said.

Their research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, NOAA and the National Marine Fisheries Service.


Story By: 

Ric Brodeur,

Multimedia Downloads

chrysaora jellyfish

Chrysaora melanaster

OSU Aims to Hire 2 Researchers by September to Study Honeybee Health

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University hopes to hire two research and Extension faculty members by September to examine the health of the state's honeybees and find out if any hives have been wiped out by a mysterious phenomenon that has caused losses in colonies throughout the country.

Honeybees are crucial pollinators for many of Oregon's crops, including blueberries, pears, cherries, apples and vegetable seeds.

The positions will be funded through a $215,000 emergency package approved last week by the Joint Legislative Emergency Board, which oversees budget requests when the state legislature is out of session. The money will also be used to increase the diagnostic capability at OSU's Insect ID Clinic and buy lab supplies for honeybee research. The funding is for 10 months, but the university hopes the legislature will renew funding in the 2009-11 budget for the Oregon University System.

OSU will conduct a nationwide search to fill the two new openings, said Stella Coakley, an associate dean at OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences. One position is for a lead scientist who will identify and work to resolve problems facing honeybees in Oregon. Ideally, the candidate would be an entomologist with expertise in apiculture and experience with honeybee health issues, Coakley said.

The other position is a research and Extension assistant who would aid the lead scientist and OSU insect clinic entomologist, Jim Young. Young presently is funded to devote four hours a week to honeybee health issues, but with the new funding, he will spend 10 hours a week on this. He also plans to analyze random samples of honeybees from across the state to form a general assessment of the health of hives.

Oregon does not have a full-time expert who specializes in diagnosing problems facing honeybees. The Oregon Department of Agriculture used to employ a honeybee expert but eliminated that position in the 1990s amid budget cuts.

Young is the only OSU employee paid to handle issues involving the health of honeybees. On his own time, Professor Emeritus Michael Burgett answers the public's questions about bees but isn't paid to do so.

Burgett and agricultural economists from Montana State University and North Carolina State University received a grant this year from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to calculate how many honeybee colonies have died in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho in 2007-08 and to assess the economic impact of these deaths on agriculture. Burgett said he expects the findings to be published in December or January.

Young oversees OSU Extension's Honey Bee Diagnostic Services (http://www.bcc.orst.edu/bpp/insect_clinic/bees.htm), which was created this year in response to concern from farmers, apiculturists and the general public. The lab diagnoses non-viral diseases and pests, including American and European foulbrood, chalkbrood, stonebrood and tracheal mites.

In April, Young mailed a survey, which is voluntary and anonymous, to 120 beekeepers in Oregon to find out what diseases and pests were affecting their honeybees. About 30 have been returned, he said.

"The replies are so scattered that there does not appear to be any pattern," Young said.

He said that some reported cases of American and European foulbrood, varroa mites, and nosema. Three or four beekeepers thought their hives suffered from colony collapse disorder, but that doesn't mean they actually had the condition, Young said.

Colony collapse disorder occurs when adult honeybees disappear from a hive, either entirely or in large numbers. The phenomenon came to light in late 2006, when beekeepers on the East Coast began to see their honeybee colonies dwindle. A cause has not been determined, but one possible suspect is a virus. The disorder has since spread to other states and may now be present in the Pacific Northwest, including Oregon.


Stella Coakley,

Coffee Grounds Perk up Compost Pile With Nitrogen

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Coffee grounds can be an excellent addition to a compost pile. The grounds are relatively rich in nitrogen, providing bacteria the energy they need to turn organic matter into compost.

About 2 percent nitrogen by volume, used coffee grounds can be a safe substitute for nitrogen-rich manure in the compost pile, explained Cindy Wise, coordinator of the compost specialist program at the Lane County office of the Oregon State University Extension Service.

"A lot of people don't want to use manure because of concerns about pathogens," said Wise.

Contrary to popular belief, coffee grounds are not acidic. After brewing, the grounds are close to pH neutral, between 6.5 and 6.8. The acid in the beans is mostly water-soluble, so it leaches into the coffee we drink.

Since 2001, Wise has trained and coordinated OSU compost specialist volunteers. They have collected and composted nearly 200 tons of coffee grounds from 13 coffee shops and kiosks in Eugene, Springfield, Florence, Cottage Grove and Veneta. That's the equivalent of about 25 large dump trucks full of coffee grounds.

Lane County alone is estimated to generate a million pounds of used coffee grounds per year, said Wise.

"Recycling this valuable soil amendment and compost ingredient makes sense both economically and environmentally," she said.

Wise is encouraging gardeners and those that compost in other communities to arrange to collect coffee shop grounds for composting. But be sure to make prior arrangements with a coffee shop to collect grounds. Then, take a clean five-gallon bucket with a lid, label it with your name and telephone number on the bucket and lid and leave it at the shop and then pick it up at the shop's convenience.

Here are some suggestions for using composted grounds in the yard and garden from the OSU Extension compost specialists:

  • Mix grounds into soil as an amendment. Make sure to keep them damp. Add some nitrogen fertilizer if you do this, as coffee grounds encourage the growth of microbes in the soil, which use up nitrogen. While microbes are breaking down the grounds, the nitrogen will provide a source of nutrients for your plants.

  • Spread grounds on the soil surface, then cover them with leaves or bark mulch.

  • Add grounds to your compost pile, layering one part leaves to one part fresh grass clippings to one part coffee grounds, by volume. Turn once a week. This will be ready in three to six months.

  • Or, put them in an existing unturned pile. Just make sure to add a high carbon source, such as leaves to balance it.

  • Grounds may be stored for future use. They may develop molds but these appear to be consumed during the composting process. Or a large plastic bag works for storage as well.

  • Paper coffee filters may be composted with the grounds.

Keep in mind that uncomposted coffee grounds are NOT a nitrogen fertilizer. Coffee grounds have a carbon-to-nitrogen ration of about 20 to 1, in the same range as animal manure. Germination tests in Eugene showed that uncomposted coffee grounds, added to soil as about one-fourth the volume, showed poor germination and stunted growth in lettuce seed. Therefore, they need to be composted before using near plants.

Wise and her composting protégés have been conducting informal research on composting coffee grounds. So far, they have observed that coffee grounds help to sustain high temperatures in compost piles. High temperatures reduce potentially dangerous pathogens and kill seeds from weeds and vegetables that were added to the piles. They have noticed that coffee grounds seem to improve soil structure, plus attract earthworms.

When coffee grounds made up 25 percent of the volume of their compost piles, temperatures in the piles stayed between 135 degrees and 155 degrees for at least two weeks, enough time to have killed a "significant portion" of the pathogens and seeds. In contrast, the manure in the trials didn't sustain the heat as long..

"We were amazed at the results we got with coffee grounds when we did the trial," said Wise.

Jack Hannigan, an Extension-trained compost specialist, is pleased with the results he gets from the coffee grounds he collects from the Fast Lane Coffee Company in Springfield to use on his farm in Pleasant Hill.

"I make hotbeds that run about 150 degrees," Hannigan said. "It kills the weeds. I can get the piles hotter and break down the compost better with coffee grounds than I can with manure. It works great."

Coffee grounds also can be added directly to soil but the grounds need a few months to break down, Wise said. "We're not certain about how coffee grounds act with the soil, but anecdotally people say they do dig it into the soil," she said.

An additional benefit of diverting coffee grounds from the landfill is that it helps cut greenhouse gas emissions, said Dan Hurley, waste management engineer for Lane County's Short Mountain Landfill.

"To keep organics out of the landfill is a good thing for reducing greenhouse gas emissions because organics decompose and produce methane. Methane is about 25 times as bad as carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas," said Hurley.

Recycling coffee shop grounds also fosters interactions between community residents and local businesses. The coffee grounds stay in their communities, meaning that fuel isn't being used to truck them from far-flung areas of the county to landfills

The OSU Extension Service offers several resources online to learn more about making and using compost:

Growing Your Own—Recycle with Compost Pile

Gardening with Composts, Mulches and Row Covers

Como hacer y usar el compost (in Spanish)

Improving Soils with Organic Matter


Cindy Wise,

Loss of Wolves Causes Major Ecosystem Disruption at Olympic National Park

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Olympic National Park was created in 1938, in part “to preserve the finest sample of primeval forests in the entire United States” – but a new study at Oregon State University suggests that this preservation goal has failed, as a result of the elimination of wolves and subsequent domination of the temperate rainforests by herds of browsing elk.

The park, with streamside ecosystems that have been largely denuded of the young trees needed to replace the old ones, and stream systems that bear little resemblance to the narrower and vegetation-lined rivers of the past, is now anything but “primeval” and a very different place than it was 70 years ago, researchers say.

The extermination of wolves in the early 1900s set off a “trophic cascade” of changes that appear to have affected forest vegetation and stream dynamics, with possible impacts on everything from fisheries to birds and insects, the scientists wrote in their report, just published in the journal Ecohydrology.

Members of the Press Expedition, hiking in 1890 through what is now Olympic National Park, found the banks of the upper Quinault River “so dense with underbrush as to be almost impenetrable,” they wrote at the time. Logs jammed the rivers, dense tree canopies shaded and cooled the streams, and trout and salmon thrived along with hundreds of species of plants and animals.

“Today, you go through the same area and instead of dense vegetation that you have to fight through, it’s a park-like stand of predominantly big trees,” said Bill Ripple, a co-author of the study and forestry professor at Oregon State University. “It’s just a different world.”

That world may still be quite beautiful with its jagged, glacier-covered peaks and towering old-growth trees. But it’s not the same one that so impressed President Theodore Roosevelt in 1909 that he created Mount Olympus National Monument – in large part to help protect elk herds that had been decimated by hunting. The Roosevelt elk, a massive animal that now bears his name, can weigh more than 1,000 pounds.

With protection from hunters and extermination of wolves not long after that, elk populations surged, and OSU researchers say that in the intervening decades the very nature of Olympic National Park has changed dramatically.

“Our study shows that there has been almost no recruitment of new cottonwood and bigleaf maple trees since the wolves disappeared, and also likely impacts on streamside shrubs, which are very important for river stability,” said Robert Beschta, lead author of the study and professor emeritus of forest hydrology at OSU. “Decreases in woody plant communities allow river banks to rapidly erode and river channels to widen.”

“Tree and shrub species along stream banks and floodplains started crashing first,” Beschta said. “Then, apparently, the rivers began to unravel. Now we have large areas where the forest understory vegetation is mostly just grasses and ferns.”

The study showed that river dynamics are quite different than they were historically. Streams that once were held together in tight channels by heavy bank vegetation are now wider and braided, with exposed gravel bars a common feature. The water is open to the warming sun and less enriched by plants and insects. Nearly half of the terraces along the Queets River have disappeared because of accelerated erosion over a period of multiple decades.

“We’ve seen the impact of wolves on the ecosystem in Yellowstone, the effect of cougars in Yosemite National Park, the same basic story about the importance of key predators being played out in many different places,” Ripple said. “What’s so surprising here is that it’s happening in a temperate rainforest, which is hugely productive and has such high levels of vegetation growth. But even there, when the ecosystem gets overwhelmed with many large herbivores, the vegetation just can’t keep up.”

In an area outside Olympic National Park where little foraging by elk occurred, tree recruitment has been normal and healthy in recent decades.

Since the Olympic National Park ecosystem bears some similarity to much of the temperate rainforests in the Coast Range of Oregon, Washington and British Columbia – with a mild climate and heavy levels of rainfall – it’s reasonable to believe similar forces are at work elsewhere when historic predators have been removed, the scientists said.

“Unlike some of the studies we’ve done in the Rocky Mountains, arid desert or canyon ecosystems, for us this one is hitting a little closer to home,” said Beschta, a forest hydrologist who has studied Pacific Northwest streams for more than 30 years. “These processes are at work right in our backyard.”

In multiple studies in the U.S. and Canada, usually in national parks where supposedly “pristine” ecosystems are still available, the OSU scientists in recent years have documented the critical impacts on ecosystems when key predators disappear – usually wolves or cougars. It has been shown that such predators help control the grazing impacts of elk and deer on several levels, by keeping their population levels down, but also in changing their patterns of behavior – a process that has been called “the ecology of fear.”

In the most classic case where these predators have been brought back into the ecosystem – wolves in Yellowstone National Park – OSU scientists have found that some stream ecosystems are now starting to recover where they had been in serious decline for more than half a century. Streamside trees and shrubs, beaver dams, and native plants, animals and fisheries are being restored.

An effort was considered to restore wolves to the Olympic National Park ecosystem in recent years, but no decision or actions have been undertaken to accomplish that, the OSU scientists said.

To view the Elk Video News clip:



Story By: 

Robert Beschta,

Multimedia Downloads


Elk grazing in Olympic National Park

Robert Beschta

OSU forestry researcher Robert Beschta

OSU Professor to Test Beijing Air Quality at Olympics

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A researcher from Oregon State University will travel to smog-cloaked Beijing this month to monitor the air quality before and during the Olympics and see what impact cleanup efforts have had.

"Hopefully, the research will help the Chinese government to better understand how it can control air quality in large cities," said Staci Simonich, an associate professor of chemistry and toxicology.

China has been taking steps to clean up its sky in preparation for the Olympics. The government announced this month that it has banned about 300,000 high-emission vehicles – about 10 percent of the total in Beijing – from the capital's roads until Sept. 20. It also said high-pollution businesses have been closed or moved, some provinces have been banned from burning straw, and thousands of government vehicles have been parked in the garage.

Simonich, who will be in China from July 19 to Aug. 15, forms part of a team of researchers who have been testing various aspects of the air quality in a project called CAREBEIJING. Led by Peking University, it was launched in 2006 with the mission of formulating a strategy to control air pollution during the games, which run from Aug. 8-24.

While in Beijing, Simonich will devote her attention to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are produced by burning carbon-based materials such as gas, coal and wood. She'll focus on them because she's an expert on that subject and because they're a serious health concern in China given that some cause cancer, she said.

Simonich isn't worried about these hydrocarbons causing cancer in the athletes and visitors because they will be there only for a short time. But other pollutants, like particulate matter and ozone, could cause Beijing's guests to experience temporary respiratory problems, she said.

Standing on a rooftop at Peking University, Simonich will use a pump to suck air into white, rectangular, filters that will trap particles containing hydrocarbons. She'll begin sampling the air around the last week of July. After she leaves, a student from Peking University will conduct the tests during the last week of the games. Simonich will send the filters to her lab at OSU and determine which hydrocarbons are present. She'll also test them on bacteria to see if they cause cancer.

Simonich became involved in CAREBEIJING after inviting two of its participants to speak at OSU. Her visit will be the third time in recent months that OSU researchers have collected air samples in Beijing. Her graduate students gathered air samples in August 2007 and January of this year. Simonich expects to know the results of those tests as well as the ones from August 2008 within a year.

The Chinese government and the U.S. National Science Foundation will fund her trip and research.

Simonich specializes in studying how pollutants travel through the atmosphere. She runs a lab at OSU that identifies and tracks chemicals, like pesticides, that hitch rides along airstreams that start in Asia and blow across the Pacific Ocean to mountains in the western United States. She also is a member of a National Academy of Sciences committee that studies pollutants entering and leaving the United States.



Staci Simonich,

Keep It Growing – Plant Fall and Winter Vegetables in July

CORVALLIS, Ore. – In mild parts of western Oregon and along most of the coast, it is possible to grow a succession of garden vegetables throughout the year. You can extend the season well into fall in many parts of the Pacific Northwest with a little knowledge and protection of your plants from the elements.

When space becomes available after harvesting the last of your spring-planted peas or greens, keep those veggies coming.

Even though your summer vegetables are growing like mad, late June through the first of August is time to plant many of your fall garden seeds in many parts of the Pacific Northwest. Lettuce and winter greens can be put in until August in many locations. Transplants can be put into the ground up until the end of July for best odds of a fall and winter harvest.

When planning a winter garden, choose the warmest, most sheltered spots in the garden, advises Ross Penhallegon, Oregon State University Extension horticulturist. Choose heat-resistant varieties and shade and water them frequently as they grow. Enation-resistant pea varieties include Oregon Pioneer shelling peas, Sugar Daddy snap peas and Oregon Sugar Pod II snow peas. Bolt-resistant greens include Tyee spinach and oak leaf lettuce. Greens can be planted in the shade of taller plants for summer and fall growth. July is a good time to put in more carrots for fall and winter harvest, as well.

"Be sure you avoid poorly-drained or windy sites and places that are frost pockets," said Penhallegon. "And add a good dose of organic matter to clay soils prior to planting for fall and winter."

Keep carrot seeds moist until germination. In hot, dry weather, a damp burlap sack or light mulch over the row will ease germination. Keep it damp and check for germination every five days. Twenty to 30 feet of row should keep a family of four in carrots into spring. Royal Chantenay, Danvers 1/2 Long and Merida are good carrots for planting in July and can be harvested all winter.

Other vegetable varieties that will grow through the winter include purple-sprouting broccoli, Utah-improved celery or President endive. Many kinds of Swiss chard, even if planted in the spring, will over winter and resprout the following spring. Improved kales are a very reliable crop to plant in late June into July.

Most members of the cabbage family can be harvested in fall or early winter if planted by early July. Many other greens in this group, such as Chinese cabbage, kale, collards and mustard, hold well into the winter.

If you missed planting leeks in May, try garlic or overwintering WallaWalla sweet onions. Both can be planted in September, and harvested the following late spring into early summer.

Slugs can be a major problem in the fall and winter vegetable gardens. Use properly labeled slug baits until cold weather arrives. Many gardeners prefer the least toxic iron phosphate baits such as "Sluggo," for environmental and safety reasons. Another way to reduce slugs is to thoroughly till the soil before planting to reduce the slug population. Tender crops such as buttercrunch or black-seeded Simpson lettuce especially need protection from both slugs and rain. For best results, grow them under cloches or cold frames during the late fall and winter.

The OSU Extension Service offers a guide to winter gardening for all areas of the Pacific Northwest, called "Fall and Winter Gardening in the Pacific Northwest," (PNW 548). It includes variety recommendations and temperature limitations for each vegetable. Season extending techniques are provided as well. It is on line at: http://extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/html/pnw/pnw548/

Or purchase a printed copy by calling 1-800-561-6719.



Ross Penhallegon,

New Report: Greatest Value of Forests is Sustainable Water Supply

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The forests of the future may need to be managed as much for a sustainable supply of clean water as any other goal, researchers say in a new federal report – but even so, forest resources will offer no “quick fix” to the insatiable, often conflicting demands for this precious resource.

This new view of forests is evolving, scientists say, as both urban and agricultural demands for water continue to increase, and the role of clean water from forests becomes better understood as an “ecosystem service” of great value. Many factors – changing climate, wildfires, insect outbreaks, timber harvest, roads, and even urban sprawl – are influencing water supplies from forests.

Preserving and managing forests may help sustain water supplies and water quality from the nation’s headwaters in the future, they conclude, but forest management is unlikely to increase water supplies.

“Historically, forest managers have not focused much of their attention on water, and water managers have not focused on forests,” said Julia Jones, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University, and vice chair of a committee of the National Research Council, which today released a report on the hydrologic effects of a changing forest landscape. “But today’s water problems demand that these groups work together closely.

“Because forests can release slightly more water for a decade or so following timber harvest, there have been suggestions that forests could be managed to increase water supplies in some areas,” Jones said. “But we’ve learned that such increases don’t last very long, and often don’t provide water when you need it most.”

The science of how forest management affects water quantity and quality, Jones said, has produced a solid foundation of principles. But forests in the United States are changing rapidly, and additional research may reveal ways to provide a sustainable flow of fresh, clean water.

Changes in water supplies from forests due to climate change, the researchers said, are a particular concern, and water supplies may already be affected by increased fire frequency and insect or disease epidemics. Many such factors require more study, they said.

Among the findings of the report:

  • Forests cover about one-third of the nation’s land area, and although they have roles in timber production, habitat, recreation and wilderness, their most important output may be water.
  • Forests provide natural filtration and storage systems that process nearly two-thirds of the water supply in the U.S.
  • Demand for water continues to rise due to population growth, while forest acreage is declining and remaining forest lands are threatened by climate change, disease epidemics, fire and global climate change.
  • Forest vegetation and soils, if healthy and intact, can benefit human water supplies by controlling water yield, peak flows, low flows, sediment levels, water chemistry and quality.
  • Increases in water yield after forest harvesting are transitory; they decrease over time as forests re-grow, and in the meantime water quality may be reduced.
  • Impervious surfaces such as roads and road drainage systems increase overland flow, deliver water directly to stream channels, and can increase surface erosion.
  • Forest chemicals, including those used to fight fire, can adversely affect aquatic ecosystems, especially if they are applied directly to water bodies or wet soil.
  • One of the biggest threats to forests, and the water that derives from them, is the permanent conversion of forested land to residential, industrial and commercial uses.

The report also outlined a number of research needs for the future, especially to improve specific predictions about the implications of forest harvests, disturbances by fire, insects and disease, climate change, land development, and shifts in forest species composition.

Modern forest practices have helped to protect streams and riparian zones, but more needs to be learned about the implications of such practices as thinning or partial cuts – development of “best management” practices could help balance timber harvest with sustainable water flow and quality.

And global warming, which affects timing and amount of snowmelt runoff, wildfires, and insect and disease outbreaks, is a huge variable.

The study also cited the value of watershed councils and citizen groups in getting more people involved in water, stream and land management issues at a local level, increasing the opportunities for all views to be considered, and conflicts avoided.

Support for this project, which involved numerous representatives from academia and private industry in the U.S. and Canada, was provided by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture. The National Research Council is operated by the National Academy of Sciences. This is one of the first major studies on forests and water since a U.S. Forest Service project in 1976, the authors noted.

“Times have changed,” the authors wrote in the report. “Thirty years ago, no one would have imagined that clearcutting on public lands in the Pacific Northwest would come to a screeching halt; or that farmers would give up water for endangered fish and birds; or that climate change would produce quantifiable changes in forest structure, species and water supplies.”

Those changes demanded a new assessment of current conditions, an understanding of rising tensions, and an evaluation of future needs, the researchers said.


Story By: 

Julia Jones,

Lionfish Decimating Other Tropical Fish Populations, Threaten Coral Reefs

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The invasion of predatory lionfish in the Caribbean region poses yet another major threat there to coral reef ecosystems – a new study has found that within a short period after the entry of lionfish into an area, the survival of other reef fishes is slashed by about 80 percent.

Aside from the rapid and immediate mortality of marine life, the loss of herbivorous fish also sets the stage for seaweeds to potentially overwhelm the coral reefs and disrupt the delicate ecological balance in which they exist, according to scientists from Oregon State University.

Following on the heels of overfishing, sediment depositions, nitrate pollution in some areas, coral bleaching caused by global warming, and increasing ocean acidity caused by carbon emissions, the lionfish invasion is a serious concern, said Mark Hixon, an OSU professor of zoology and expert on coral reef ecology.

The study is the first to quantify the severity of the crisis posed by this invasive species, which is native to the tropical Pacific and Indian Ocean and has few natural enemies to help control it in the Atlantic Ocean. It is believed that the first lionfish – a beautiful fish with dramatic coloring and large, spiny fins – were introduced into marine waters off Florida in the early 1990s from local aquariums or fish hobbyists. They have since spread across much of the Caribbean Sea and north along the United States coast as far as Rhode Island.

“This is a new and voracious predator on these coral reefs and it’s undergoing a population explosion,” Hixon said. “The threats to coral reefs all over the world were already extreme, and they now have to deal with this alien predator in the Atlantic. These fish eat many other species and they seem to eat constantly.”

Findings of the new research will be published soon in Marine Ecology Progress Series. The lead author is Mark Albins, a doctoral student working with Hixon.

In studies on controlled plots, the OSU scientists determined that lionfish reduced young juvenile fish populations by 79 percent in only a five-week period. Many species were affected, including cardinalfish, parrotfish, damselfish and others. One large lionfish was observed consuming 20 small fish in a 30-minute period.

Lionfish are carnivores that can eat other fish up to two-thirds their own length, while they are protected from other predators by long, poisonous spines. In the Pacific Ocean, Hixon said, other fish have learned to avoid them and they also have more natural predators, particularly large groupers. In the Atlantic Ocean, native fish have never seen them before and have no recognition of danger. There, about the only thing that will eat lionfish is another lionfish – they are not only aggressive carnivores, but also cannibals.

“In the Caribbean, few local predators eat lionfish, so there appears to be no natural controls on them,” Hixon said. “And we’ve observed that they feed in a way that no Atlantic Ocean fish has ever encountered. Native fish literally don’t know what hit them.”

When attacking another fish, Hixon said, the lionfish will use its large, fan-like fins to herd smaller fish into a corner and then swallow them in a rapid strike. Because of their natural defense mechanisms they are afraid of almost no other marine life. And the poison released by their sharp spines can cause extremely painful stings to humans – even leading to fatalities for some people with heart problems or allergic reactions.

“These are pretty scary fish, and they aren’t timid,” Hixon said. “They will swim right up to a diver in their feeding posture, looking like they’re ready to eat. That can be a little spooky.”

Their rapid reproduction potential, Hixon said, must now be understood in context with their ability to seriously depopulate coral reef ecosystems of other fish. Parrotfishes and other herbivores prevent seaweeds from smothering corals. A major, invasive predator such as lionfish could disrupt the entire system.

Options to manage the lionfish threat are limited, Hixon said. They can be collected individually, which may be of localized value, but that approach offers no broad solution. Recovery or introduction of effective predators might help. Groupers, a fish that has been known to eat lionfish in the Pacific Ocean, have been heavily over-fished in the tropical Atlantic Ocean, Hixon said.

“We have to figure out something to do about this invasion before it causes a major crisis,” Hixon said. “We basically had to abandon some studies we had under way in the Atlantic on population dynamics of coral reef fish, because the lionfish had moved in and were eating everything.”

OSU scientists say they hope to continue research on lionfish in their native Pacific Ocean habitats for information that may be of use in their control.


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Mark Hixon,

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Mark Albins

OSU researcher Mark Albins studying lionfish underwater

Oregon State University Undertakes Measurement of its Carbon Footprint

ORVALLIS, Ore. – How much carbon does Oregon State University cause to be released into the atmosphere each year?

For those Beavers concerned with sustainability and the environment, that’s a key question. To find the answer, the university’s Sustainability Office recently completed a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory for the 2007 fiscal year.

The inventory shows that OSU’s total emissions increased 9.4 percent since a similar survey was done in 2004, for a total of 151,287 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Purchased electricity was the single greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for more than 61 percent.

The inventory counted emissions resulting from electricity use and steam production, student and employee commuting, air travel, solid waste and several other sources. It is the most comprehensive emissions tally OSU has ever undertaken, according to Greg Smith, one of two authors of the inventory report and program assistant in the Sustainability Office.

Measurement of carbon emissions helps to understand the impact that the university’s actions are having on greenhouse gas buildup and thus OSU’s contribution to global warming. OSU is among a small group of colleges and universities around the nation that have undertaken a comprehensive inventory – fewer than 40 at last count.

But with some 558 campuses now having pledged to work toward carbon neutrality as part of a national compact on sustainability -- the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, signed by OSU President Ed Ray last year -- many more carbon assessments are expected to follow. OSU sustainability leaders say the university is taking its leadership role seriously.

“The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is fine-tuning greenhouse gas reporting rules that will likely take effect in 2009,” said Brandon Trelstad, OSU’s Sustainability Coordinator. “This inventory meets and exceeds the reporting requirements DEQ is currently considering.”

In spring 2007, OSU students voted to approve an $8.50 per student, per term green energy fee following an Associated Students of OSU campaign. Funds raised by the fee purchase renewable energy -- primarily wind, biogas and biomass. The current amount of renewable energy purchased equals about 75 percent of total campus electrical consumption.

Largely on the basis of the green energy fee, OSU was recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year as one of the nation’s top five higher education users of “green power,” as well as best in the Pac 10.

OSU’s carbon footprint ought to decrease sharply this year because the 2008 inventory will reflect the impact of the green energy fee for the first time, said Trelstad.

Conservation, said Trelstad, is the primary strategy OSU administration is taking to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. “Through conservation, we not only use financial and natural resources better, we also lower how much offsite renewable energy we need to purchase to ultimately become climate neutral.”

The Sustainability Office will inventory OSU’s emissions annually.

About Sustainability at OSU: Oregon State University is a campus leader in sustainability through initiatives ranging from its Student Sustainability Center to an electronic carpool system to internationally recognized research in development of green power sources, such as wave energy. Learn more at http://oregonstate.edu/sustainability/.




Brandon Trelstad,

Report: Economic Impacts of Invasive Species May Rival that of Climate Change in Oregon

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new report prepared for the Oregon Invasive Species Council concludes that the state needs to more strongly consider the economic consequences of addressing invasive species and not just focus attention on the biology and ecology.

Written by Chris Cusack and Michael Harte of Oregon State University, the report says economics “provides us with many of the tools we need to understand and tackle the invasive species problem.”

“Invasive species already cost Oregon hundreds of millions of dollars each year in lost agricultural production and control, yet we still tend to think of them as biological issues, not economic ones,” said Harte, who directs the Marine Resource Management Program at OSU. “Over the next 20 years, the economic impact of invasive species will be as big, if not bigger in Oregon than the impacts of global warming.

“Not until we make that shift in people’s minds will we get traction on the issue and begin more serious efforts at prevention,” Harte added.

The authors say the best general estimate for direct and indirect impacts of invasive species nationally is about $140 billion a year. Although no total figure is available for Oregon, estimates for some invasive species control projects include:

• $120 million a year for 21 species of noxious weeds, resulting in agricultural production losses, fire damage and control costs;

• $7 million a year to control the outbreak of Sudden Oak Death – a total which could jump to $79 million to $304 million annually through nursery production losses if the disease becomes established;

• $25 million a year maintain 13 hydropower facilities if zebra mussels gain a foothold in Oregon waterways;

• $10 million to $31 million a year to remove invasive plants from Portland and replace them with native species over a five-year period;

• $6 million in 2006-07 to eradicate an illegally introduced fish (Tui Chub) responsible for food chain impacts that led to dangerous levels of toxic cyanobacteria blooms in Diamond Lake;

• $22.7 million invested by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board on invasive species projects since 1999. A portion of this investment went to restoration projects after control of the invasive species.

These estimates don’t even begin to address less measurable economic costs related to invasive species, Harte pointed out. The Australasian burrowing isopod has been discovered in both Coos Bay and Newport’s Yaquina Bay – and billions of burrows created by this invader “made Swiss cheese of estuarine shorelines, leading to massive erosion and loss of pasture and wildlife habitat.”

“There also is a cost to human health associated with invasive species, such as the Asimminea parasitological snail, which is the primary intermediate host for human lung flukes discovered last year in Coos Bay,” said Sam Chan, an invasive species specialist and educator with the Oregon Sea Grant program at OSU.

Another example was the E-coli epidemic in 2006 associated with eating raw spinach that was linked to contamination by feral pigs roaming the fields.

“It can be very hard to put a dollar figure on things like that,” Harte pointed out.

Sudden Oak Death provides a good case study for the economic impacts of invasive species, the authors say. The disease was first reported in Oregon in 2001, and the state began an intensive program to eradicate it by cutting and burning host plants. This invasive pathogen kills not only oaks, but rhododendrons and horticultural plants and is a major threat to southwestern Oregon timber sales should it spread.

Despite the eradication efforts, Sudden Oak Death has continued to appear in new locations in Oregon and earlier this year, the quarantine area in Curry County was increased to 162 square miles, Harte said.

The early detection and eradication program has cost Oregon about $1.8 million a year and the complete cost of eradication is estimated at $7 million annually over the next five years. But Sudden Oak Death could devastate nurseries and timber harvests because of potential quarantine requirements costing Oregon hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenues each year.

“You don’t need to be an economist to figure out that $7 million now is nothing compared to the potential costs of this invasive disease if we don’t spend money now on eradication,” Harte said.

Thinking about invasive species in economic terms leads to a different set of strategies and implications, Harte pointed out.

“For a start, we begin to realize locally and for the foreseeable future the impacts of invasive species are on par with those of global warming,” Harte said. “Oregon and Oregonians can’t necessarily stop global warming by ourselves, but we can stop invasive species.”

Prevention, education, vigilance and a common approach to understanding the economics of invasive species is necessary, the authors point out, yet success will depend on consistency. They write: “Three ports on the west coast may have best practice invasive species prevention measures in place, but a fourth port may only put in place the minimum prevention practices required by law. This ‘weakest link’ can result in (invasive species) introductions into the region despite the very best effort of the other three ports.”

Harte says that compared with many countries, the United States has been slow to address the invasive species problem. His native New Zealand, in contrast, allots about 1 percent of all government spending to tackle invasive species issues.

“I’ve had people ask me why Oregon needs to spend so much on invasive species when they’re not even here yet,” Harte said with a laugh. “My grandmother was always quick with the cod liver oil, saying an ounce of prevention was better than a pound of cure. The same goes for invasive species – the ounce of prevention pales in comparison to their potential economic impact if they become established.”

Chan says Oregonians aren’t clear about which species are problems – and what to do about it. A recent focus group study by one of Chan’s graduate students, Gwenn Kubeck, found that Oregonians participating in the study felt a lack of institutional support to prevent invasive species, and without support from institutions, personal behavior changes have no real efficacy.

“Increasing this institutional support will likely require a reallocation or increase in resources,” Chan said.

Chan, along with Oregon Sea Grant colleagues Lynn Dierking, a professor of free choice learning, and Joseph Cone, assistant director of Oregon Sea Grant, reported early findings from a 2008 survey that 79 percent of Oregonians had heard of invasive species in a general sense and expressed concern. But few could describe the threat of invasive species such as quagga mussels, feral pigs or yellow-flag iris.

The survey also showed that 65 percent thought the most serious outcome associated with non-native plants and animals in Oregon was harm to native plants and wildlife.

“That underscores the need to look at invasive species through an economic lens as well as a biological one,” Chan said.

Harte said the goal of the report to the Oregon Invasive Species Council was not to provide a comprehensive outline of Oregon’s invasive species problem, nor to provide a precise dollar figure for addressing each issue. But looking at invasive species through an economic perspective, he added, is long overdue.

“The figures are dramatic,” Harte said, “but even these are only a partial estimate. They don’t account for the potential loss of tourism, lost fishing opportunities, the degradation of habitat or the myriad offshoots that invasive species may engender.”

The report is available from Michael Harte by e-mailing him at mharte@coas.oregonstate.edu


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Michael Harte,