environment and natural resources

Green buildings laboratory to boost sustainable construction

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Imagine taking wood that’s soft and weak and using a combination of heat, steam and pressure to transform it into a product more than twice as strong as Douglas fir. And consider that this wood comes from trees that grow incredibly fast and thrive in the Pacific Northwest.

Such technology, experts say, may produce a new type of wood product industry in Oregon based on hybrid poplar – and nurtured by a new Green Buildings Material Testing Laboratory being set up at Oregon State University. It is one part of a new grant announced today from the Oregon Built Environment and Sustainable Technologies Center, or Oregon BEST.

“When hybrid poplar took off in the Pacific Northwest, it was envisioned that most of it would be used for pulp and paper,” said Fred Kamke, the JELD-WEN professor of wood science and engineering at OSU. “It’s a low-density wood with low strength. But we want to make it stronger, stiffer and harder, and able to compete for other uses that have a much higher value. And I think we can do that.”

Hybrid poplar trees can grow up to 12 feet a year and be produced in plantations much like an agricultural crop, but the wood itself is about 60 percent voided space. Researchers are using a technique called “viscoelastic thermal compression” that combines moisture, heat and mechanical compression to reduce that space, creating veneers that resemble hardwoods in their strength and density.

“Some of the first uses of this type of product might be as structural beams or perhaps wood flooring,” Kamke said. “Ultimately, these types of wood products could be so strong they might replace steel and concrete in some construction purposes.”

The new laboratory, Kamke said, will be very important in helping researchers to produce samples more quickly and efficiently, and test the results. A challenge in the near future will be to scale up what’s already working in the laboratory to commercial applications.

The new Green Building Materials Laboratory is a collaboration of OSU’s College of Engineering, College of Forestry, and one of Oregon BEST’s shared-use research facilities, and will be designed to serve as a showcase for green building in Oregon.

In the first year of the laboratory’s work, a high intensity concrete mixer is also envisioned, that incorporates non-traditional materials. Other initiatives are planned in future years as the laboratory evolves. An accelerated pavement testing machine will be constructed to more effectively analyze warm mix asphalt and “perpetual pavements,” which are types of sustainable asphalt pavement technology. Advanced fiber-reinforced composites can be created that will enhance new construction and help repair and lengthen the life of existing structures.

And as more of these renewable, bio-based materials become incorporated into buildings of the future, evaluation systems will be needed to assess the long-term effects of wetting, humidity, temperature cycles and exposure to biological agents. Toward that goal, an assessment facility for green building systems is envisioned, which will be able to simulate everything from ultraviolet light and humidity to wind-driven rain.

Story By: 

Fred Kamke,

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Veneer Panel

OSU receives grant from American Forest Foundation to address transfer of family forests

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The American Forest Foundation this week announced a three-year, $510,000 grant to Oregon State University to help address an issue of growing concern to many of America’s 10 million family forest owners: What happens to the forest under the next owners?

One-third of today’s family forest owners are 65 years or older, and one of every five acres is owned by people who plan to sell or transfer some or all of their forest land within the next five years. The American Forest Foundation grant will allow OSU’s Austin Family Business Program to extend its “Ties to the Land” project for intergenerational planning to a nationwide audience after recently completing successful in-state pilot tests.

“’Ties to the Land’ comes at a critical time of intense economic pressures on family forest owners,” said Bob Simpson, senior vice president for the American Forest Foundation. “Many of them are struggling to balance their love for the land with high property tax rates, highly depressed timber prices, and absentee heirs.”

Without good family planning for transfer of the forestland, Simpson warned that what often happens is the easiest thing – the land is sold for development.

“With more than 1.5 million acres of forests lost to development each year, we have no time to lose in educating the next generation of forest owners,” he said.

Aging landowners can easily be overwhelmed by family disputes and legal complexities of such transfers, according to Brad Withrow-Robinson, an Extension forester with the OSU College of Forestry. A typical situation is when one sibling wants to hold on to the property and other siblings are pressing to sell, he pointed out.

“Only 30 percent of family forest landowners have any kind of management plan, let alone a succession plan,” Withrow-Robinson said. “These issues are simply not being addressed with the urgency they deserve.”

To meet this need, OSU and its partners developed “family friendly” materials that are used to bring families together in workshops that walk them through their options and decisions. The goal is to create a safe forum for framing emotionally charged issues between family members with different priorities or different degrees of connection to the land.

“Succession planning is not easy because it involves confronting emotional and complex issues such as death and taxes,” said Robin Klemm, director of OSU’s Austin Family Business Program. “It requires, at a minimum, the help of professionals in the legal and financial fields.”

The award-winning Ties to the Land curriculum helps families address both family and business goals needed for effective succession planning. “Through the worksheets, the readers start their own planning,” said Klemm.

Building on a “train the trainer” model, Ties to the Land is now getting traction nationwide. The university is now doing a multi-state launch of its forest planning materials, tapping into 100 family business programs in many other states. It’s also being made available to libraries nationwide.

“As a nonprofit representing 90,000 forest owners, I can tell you we really need this program,” said Simpson, of the American Forest Foundation. “People are asking for it, so we made it a priority to get it to them.”

“The reality these days is that if forest land does not stay in the family, it often doesn’t end up as forest at all,” said OSU Extension forester Chal Landgren. “Many of these lands are on the fringes of cities and towns and get developed.”

The $500,000 grant from the American Forest Foundation was announced at a March 12 event at OSU where several speakers, including Klemm, spoke to the urgency of this work.

“Every day there are more family forest owners realizing the need to plan for the transition of their land,” she said. “Thanks to the support of AFF, we are thrilled to be able to now provide these materials to help families beyond Oregon.”

About the American Forest Foundation: The AFF is a nonprofit conservation and education organization that strives to ensure the sustainability of America’s family forests for present and future generations. AFF’s vision is to create a future where North American forests are sustained by the public which understands and values the social, economic, and environmental benefits they provide to our communities, our nation, and our world. www.forestfoundation.org.

Story By: 

James Wyerman,

Rip currents could play role in increased coastal erosion

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Amid growing concern about rising sea levels triggered by global warming, Oregon Sea Grant researchers at Oregon State University are discovering that rip currents might play a role in coastal erosion because they create rip “embayments” – or low areas on sandy beaches – that expose nearby land to higher rates of erosion by wave activity.

“There is now evidence that we’re experiencing larger coastal storms and increased wave heights that result in larger waves along shorelines,” said Merrick Haller, a coastal engineering professor at OSU who led recent research on these embayments.

“When rip currents pull sand offshore, they leave behind rip embayments, which become ‘erosional hot spots’ where the beach is much thinner, making the sea cliffs or land beyond these embayments more vulnerable to erosion caused by larger waves.”

Rip currents form in places where the water that is driven ashore with the waves drains back out to sea forming a current perpendicular to the coastline. Swimmers can be caught in these currents and pulled offshore. The Pacific Northwest is known for having strong rip currents, probably due to large swells offshore, said Haller, whose research focused on several beaches along the Oregon coast.

Using funding provided by Oregon Sea Grant, and building on earlier research conducted by OSU’s Paul Komar, an emeritus professor in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Haller and his research team studied the morphological characteristics of these embayments to better determine how rip currents form embayments. The team also studied whether the locations of embayments can be predicted.

“A major challenge is to predict where rip currents will appear, because if we knew how to predict them, we could not only warn swimmers, we could also predict where erosion will likely occur farther inland from the embayments they form,” Haller said.

This knowledge would be helpful for coastal development. Many structures sited along the coast were built before it was known that rip embayments influence erosion.

In 2006, Jonathan Allan, a coastal geomorphologist with the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries who helped Haller with the embayment research study, documented a sea cliff that eroded approximately 20 feet in a single weekend to within a few feet of an existing home near Gleneden beach.

Haller catalogued existing embayments using several years of LIDAR data collected by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The data were used to find the locations of embayments as well as the topography of the exposed beaches near the embayments.

“We wanted to know if these embayments show up in the same places, or if they migrate north or south in a certain pattern depending on wave conditions,” Haller said. “What we found is that where they form seems to be random; they showed no tendency to always show up at the same spots, nor did they appear to migrate, and they tended to disappear in less than six months.”

But Haller’s team wanted to learn how rip embayments form and under what conditions. So they ran computer model simulations, the findings of which suggest that embayments might preferentially form during moderate storms, instead of large storms as previously thought.

“When waves are really big, they start breaking way offshore, so by the time they arrive onshore, the energy is dissipated and erosion is spread uniformly along the beach,” Haller said. “But our findings suggest that there appears to be a middle range of wave heights that lead to a strong feedback between wave breaking and the shape of an incipient embayment. This feedback can drive a strong rip current and further embayment formation. Hence, embayment formation may be more prevalent during moderate storms.”

But Haller is quick to point out that more research is needed before concrete conclusions can be reached. Many other factors may play a role in embayment formation, including sand grain size, antecedent wave conditions and rock outcrops in shallow areas of the ocean. This near shore area is also challenging to study because it is shallow, waves are constantly breaking and LIDAR cannot penetrate murky water.

Recently, Haller and Peter Ruggiero, an OSU professor of geosciences, assembled a specialized personal watercraft equipped with echo sounders, computers, and a GPS system to collect bathymetry data in these shallow areas near shore.

This data will add to their understanding of how rip embayments form, helping the researchers eventually find ways to predict how and where rip currents and their embayments develop.

Oregon Sea Grant, founded in 1968 and based at Oregon State University, supports research, education, and public outreach to help people understand, responsibly use, and conserve ocean and coastal resources.

Story By: 

Merrick Haller,

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Sea Clff Erosion

Nearly 20 feet of sea cliff at Gleneden Beach, Ore., eroded away in one
November weekend in 2006, and came close to undercutting several homes.
Scientists now believe rising wave heights and coastal embayments may
increase the risk of erosion. (Photo credit: Tony/Stein/Oregon State

Weyerhaeuser Company Foundation gives $500,000 to OSU College of Forestry

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Weyerhaeuser Company Foundation has made a $500,000 gift to Oregon State University, home to one of the premier academic forestry programs in North America.

The gift to the OSU College of Forestry will create an endowed scholarship fund to attract top students from diverse backgrounds to the college’s programs in forest engineering, forest management, forest operations management, and wood science and technology.

“The OSU College of Forestry produces graduates who enter the professional world with a very solid background in active forest management,” said Rich Wininger, Weyerhaeuser’s vice president of western timberlands, who graduated from OSU in 1979 with a degree in forest engineering.

“At OSU, students are able to access nearby teaching, research and demonstration forests,” Wininger pointed out. “This proximity means that they’re used to working in the woods and are technically prepared to make an immediate contribution in the forestry business.”

Hal Salwasser, dean of forestry at OSU, said he and his faculty repeatedly hear that OSU produces some of the best employees for the forest products sector.

“This very generous gift reflects the importance of our graduates to the vitality of the industry,” Salwasser said. “Weyerhaeuser has been a terrific partner for many years, supporting research facilities, scholarships and graduate fellowships, all of which contribute to us maintaining our distinction as one of the premier forestry programs in North America.”

Weyerhaeuser Company and the Weyerhaeuser Company Foundation have given nearly $4 million to OSU to date, including this gift, but this is the largest gift targeted at scholarships.

“Weyerhaeuser is proud to support the stellar forestry program at Oregon State University and promote student excellence by providing scholarships for forestry students,” said Bruce Amundson, president of the Weyerhaeuser Company Foundation.

Salwasser said that scholarships can be the key to attracting standout students to study forestry at OSU. “We’re grateful to Weyerhaeuser for their vision and generosity,” Salwasser said.

The gift is part of the university’s $625 million Campaign for OSU, which is on track to raise $100 million for scholarships and fellowships.

About Weyerhaeuser Company: Weyerhaeuser Company, one of the world’s largest forest products companies, was incorporated in 1900. In 2008, sales were $8 billion. It has offices or operations in 10 countries, with customers worldwide. Weyerhaeuser is principally engaged in the growing and harvesting of timber; the manufacture, distribution and sale of forest products; and real estate construction and development. Additional information about Weyerhaeuser’s businesses, products and practices is available at http://www.weyerhaeuser.com.

About Weyerhaeuser Company Foundation: The mission of the Weyerhaeuser Company Foundation, established in 1948, is to release the potential in people to strengthen our communities and advance sustainability. Over the last 60 years, the Foundation has directed more than $200 million to the communities where Weyerhaeuser employees work, live and play. To learn more about the Weyerhaeuser Company Foundation, visit: http://www.weyerhaeuser.com/sustainability/foundation.


Hal Salwasser,

Portland Summit to Discuss Harmful Algal Blooms; Public Session Set on Feb. 12

PORTLAND, Ore. – Scientists and policymakers are holding a three-day summit in Portland to analyze the effects of harmful algal blooms along the West Coast and to discuss ways to develop a more effective monitoring process for Oregon, Washington and California.

The West Coast Regional Harmful Algal Bloom Summit, which runs from Feb. 10-12 at the Marriott in downtown Portland, was instigated by the West Coast Governors’ Agreement on Ocean Health and sponsored by NOAA and other organizations.

A free public session will be held on Thursday, Feb. 12, from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Marriott, during which a panel of national experts will discuss with the public and news media the effects of harmful algal blooms on coastal communities and present their plans for a harmful algal bloom monitoring network and forecasting system for the West Coast.

Harmful algal blooms are increasing worldwide and are of significant concern to coastal communities, organizers say. Though phytoplankton blooms are critical for ocean production, some of them produce toxins that accumulate in razor clams and other shellfish, poisoning those who consume them and closing clam, oyster and mussel beds to commercial and recreational harvests.

These harmful blooms are not only a public health threat, they can have a significant economic impact, according to Peter Strutton, an Oregon State University oceanographer and one of the coordinators of the summit.

One such bloom in 2002-03 caused razor clam and Dungeness crab closures in Washington that resulted in losses of more than $10 million, and a closure of the razor clam fishery in Clatsop County cost local communities an estimated $4.8 million. Toxic algae also have been blamed for 14,000 sick or dead seals, sea lions, sea otters, dolphins, birds and gray whales along the West Coast.”

Phytoplankton blooms are normal ocean phenomena occurring along the West Coast after spring and summer winds bring to the surface cold, deep, nutrient-rich water in a process called “upwelling.” When that water is exposed to sunlight, it creates blooms of phytoplankton. These tiny plants are a source of food for zooplankton and other marine creatures, which in turn are feasted upon by larger animals.

But certain species of phytoplankton have the ability to produce toxins that can be harmful to humans, according to Strutton. One called Pseudo-nitzschia produces domoic acid, which bio-accumulates in the tissues of razor clams, mussels and oysters and causes a syndrome known as amnesic shellfish poisoning in humans. Another species, Alexandrium, produces saxitoxin, which can lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning if ingested.

Of course, not all phytoplankton blooms are toxic, Strutton pointed out, and even the species that are potentially toxic don’t always produce toxins.

“We’re not sure what causes phytoplankton to suddenly become toxic,” Strutton said said. “Some scientists believe it may be stress from a lack of nutrients. But one thing that is critical is to develop a coordinated approach to monitoring, responding to, and forecast these blooms – and we hope that will result from this summit.”

Story By: 

Pete Strutton,

Sea Level Rise Could Be Worse Than Anticipated

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If global warming some day causes the West Antarctic Ice Sheet to collapse, as many experts believe it could, the resulting sea level rise in much of the United States and other parts of the world would be significantly higher than is currently projected, a new study concludes.

The catastrophic increase in sea level, already projected to average between 16 and 17 feet around the world, would be almost 21 feet in such places as Washington, D.C., scientists say, putting it largely underwater. Many coastal areas would be devastated. Much of southern Florida would disappear.

The report will be published Friday in the journal Science, by researchers from Oregon State University and the University of Toronto. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation and other agencies from the U.S. and Canada.

“We aren’t suggesting that a collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is imminent,” said Peter Clark, a professor of geosciences at Oregon State University. “But these findings do suggest that if you are planning for sea level rise, you had better plan a little higher.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that a collapse of this ice sheet would raise sea levels around the world by about 16.5 feet, on average, and that figure is still widely used. However, that theoretical average does not consider several key forces, such as gravity, changes in the Earth’s rotation or a rebound of the land on which the massive glacier now rests, scientists say in the new study.

Right now, this ice sheet has a huge mass, towering more than 6,000 feet above sea level over a large section of Antarctica that’s about the size of Texas. This mass is sufficient to exert a substantial gravitational attraction, researchers say, pulling water toward it – much as the gravitational forces of the sun and moon cause the constant movement of water on Earth commonly known as tides.

“A study was done more than 30 years ago pointing out this gravitational effect, but for some reason it became virtually ignored,” Clark said. “People forgot about it when developing their sea level projections for the future.”

Aside from incorporating the gravitational effect, the new study adds further wrinkles to the calculation – the weight of the ice forcing down the land mass on which it sits, and also affecting the orientation of the Earth’s spin. When the ice is removed, it appears the underlying land would rebound, and the Earth’s axis of rotation defined by the North and South Pole would actually shift about one-third of a mile, also affecting the sea level at various points.

When these forces are all taken into calculation, the sea level anywhere near Antarctica would actually fall, the report concludes, while many other areas, mostly in the Northern Hemisphere, would go up.

If the West Antarctic Ice Sheet completely melted, the East Coast of North America would experience sea levels more than four feet higher than had been previously predicted – almost 21 feet – and the West Coast, as well as Miami, Fla., would be about a foot higher than that. Most of Europe would have seas about 18 feet higher.

“If this did happen, there would also be many other impacts that go far beyond sea level increase, including much higher rates of coastal erosion, greater damage from major storm events, problems with ground water salinization, and other issues,” Clark said. “And there could be correlated impacts on other glaciers and ice sheets in coastal areas that could tend to destabilize them as well.”

It’s still unclear, Clark said, when or if a breakup of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet might occur, or how fast it could happen. It may not happen for hundreds of years, he said, and even then it may not melt in its entirety. Research should continue to better understand the forces at work, he said.

“However, these same effects apply to any amount of melting that may occur from West Antarctica,” Clark said. “So many coastal areas need to plan for greater sea level rise than they may have expected.”

A significant part of the concern is that much of the base of this huge ice mass actually sits below sea level, forced down to the bedrock by the sheer weight of the ice above it. Its edges flow out into floating ice shelves, including the huge Ross Ice Shelf and Ronne Ice Shelf. This topography makes it “inherently unstable,” Clark said.

“There is widespread concern that the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which is characterized by extensive marine-based sectors, may be prone to collapse in a warming world,” the researchers wrote in their report.

Both digital images and video of the impact around the world of sea level increases up six meters can be obtained at this web site: https://www.cresis.ku.edu/research/data/sea_level_rise/index.html

A digital image of what Antarctica would look like if it consisted only of land actually above sea level is also available at this URL: http://www.flickr.com/photos/oregonstateuniversity/4254316349/

Story By: 

Peter Clark,

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More information and a video interview with the principal investigators can also be obtained from the National Science Foundation

Book on Old Growth Forests Combines Views of Different Stakeholders

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Philosopher Kathleen Dean Moore looks at an old growth forest and sees a sanctuary, a place that has spiritual value. Timber company chairman Howard Sohn sees the value in old growth for its ecological characteristics, and wants to remove the guilt associated with forest management.

“Old Growth in a New World: A Pacific Northwest Icon Reexamined” is a new collection of essays just released by Island Press. The collection, edited by Thomas Spies and Sally Duncan, brings together perspectives on Northwest old growth forests from a variety of sources, from ecologists and sociologists to forest industry leaders and economists.

Spies is a research ecologist at the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis and has a courtesy appointment at Oregon State University. Duncan is policy research manager with the Institute for Natural Resources at OSU.

Spies said the origins for the book came from a 2005 conference where social, ecological scientists and policy makers were invited to have a conversation about the future of old growth forests – how we should view them, what kind of management should take place.

“The early debates about old growth were extremely polarized,” Spies said. “Once that fervor died down a bit, it was a good time to step back and see what we learned from that experience.”

Spies and Duncan wanted the book to represent a broad spectrum of views intrinsic to the old growth forest debate: perspectives from ecologists, economists, conservationists, social scientists and industry all were included.

Duncan said part of what resulted over the old growth issues in the 1990s was what she calls an “inflexible” view of old growth that rendered it as an icon, rather than as a living, changing ecosystem.

“Most natural resource issues are multi-faceted and do not have easy resolution, single answers, clear definitions or a manageable time frame,” she said, pointing to the fact that a definition of what constitutes the term “old growth” has never really been decided.

As climate change continues to change forest ecosystems, Spies said a constant reexamining of the issues confronting our forests will be needed.

“This isn’t a cookbook with recipes for solutions to the problems of old growth forests, but rather a guide to old growth that may lead toward a richer understanding of the issues and ultimately more effective policies and practices for our forests,” Spies said. “This has been a major issue in the Northwest for a long time, and it will continue to be.”

Some of the contributors to “Old Growth in a New World” include:

• Andy Kerr, senior counselor to Oregon Wild and a conservationist who lives in Ashland, writes on the early efforts of environmentalists to team up with scientists on forest policy initiatives;
• Denise Lach, associate professor in the Department of Sociology at OSU, on the “wicked problems” of old-growth forest management and clumsy solutions to “solving” such a complex system;
• Ross Mickey, manager with American Forest Resource Council in Portland and advocate for forest products industry, writes about the many different definitions of the term “old growth” and the need to actively manage and plant new forests;
• Kathleen Dean Moore, distinguished professor of philosophy at OSU and founding director of Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word, reflects on the value of an old growth forest for itself, rather than its value as a human commodity;
• Robert G. Lee, retired professor of sociology of natural resources from University of Washington, analyzes the question of what kind of spiritual values a forest holds, and ponders a new approach to nature that would be built on a new sense of science and religion;
• Gordon Reeves and Peter Bisson, research fisheries biologists with the U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, write on the need for a management strategy that allows forests in other watersheds to attain old-growth stand properties as existing old growth stands are lost to natural disturbances;
• Hal Salwasser, dean of the College of Forestry at OSU, on the need for a broad perspective on old growth forests variability and the need to place these forests in the context of how human existence inevitably changes these ecosystems and permanently alters the landscape.

Story By: 

Thomas Spies,

OSU Hires Texas A&M Entomologist to Study Honeybee Health

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has hired a honeybee researcher from Texas A&M University as part of an initiative to help ensure that there are enough healthy honeybees to pollinate Oregon's crops.

The appointment of Ramesh Sagili, who will start his new job as an assistant research professor in OSU’s horticulture department on Feb. 27, means that Oregon State now has the first honeybee expert on its faculty since Michael Burgett retired in 2002.

Sagili's position was created at the request of Oregon agricultural groups worried about the health and supply of honeybees, which are crucial pollinators for many of the state's crops, including blueberries, pears, cherries, apples and vegetable seeds.

The funding for his salary comes from a $215,000 appropriation approved last year by the state legislature's Emergency Board. That money will also support a faculty research and extension assistant to aid Sagili in gathering and analyzing data about honeybee health, diseases and pests in Oregon. Their positions are funded for one year, but the university is working to identify additional funding to extend their employment.

Sagili, who earned a doctorate in entomology from Texas A&M, has two main duties: helping the honeybee industry through the OSU Extension Service and conducting research.

Sagili said his first action as Extension's honeybee specialist will be to meet with beekeepers and industry representatives to find out what problems they face. He also plans to provide educational workshops at locations convenient for agricultural producers and to develop a Master Beekeeper program that would provide training to novice and experienced beekeepers. Furthermore, he plans to create a honeybee Web site that will provide the latest information on research, management practices and pest control.

As for research, Sagili said he intends to investigate how honeybee health is affected by Varroa mites, pesticides and stress resulting from the migration of hives. He also plans to compare how locating hives near only one source of pollen (like an apple orchard) versus several different sources affects their physiology, learning behavior and colony growth. Additionally, he aims to design a field test that beekeepers can use to determine if their bees are consuming enough protein.

As part of his research, Sagili plans to investigate the use of brood pheromone, which is secreted by honeybee larvae, to stimulate bees' consumption of protein supplements during the winter so they're strong and healthy when the busy days of spring pollination roll around.

He also plans to explore the use of brood pheromone to decrease infestations of Varroa mites, which are parasites that suppress the immune systems of drone and worker honeybees, thus making them more susceptible to diseases and possible death.

Sagili said Varroa mites, nutritional deficiencies or other factors might be the cause of colony collapse disorder, which occurs when adult honeybees abandon a hive. The phenomenon came to light in 2006 when beekeepers on the East Coast began to see their honeybee colonies dwindle.

"Colony collapse disorder is so complex that it will be a long time before we arrive at a conclusion as to what is causing it,” Sagili said. “But meanwhile, beekeepers need to take steps to maintain healthy and strong colonies.”

It's unclear if the disorder has spread to Oregon, said OSU entomologist James Young. Young mailed voluntary surveys to beekeepers last year to find out what diseases and pests were affecting their honeybees. Of the 43 beekeepers who returned surveys, 12 reported losing 2,036 hives to what they thought was colony collapse disorder between January 2006 and March 2008.

Young emphasized, however, that this doesn’t mean that colony collapse disorder exists in Oregon. An apiary inspector would need to visit the hives and verify the beekeepers' self-diagnoses, said Young, who oversees OSU Extension's Honey Bee Diagnostic Service. The service was added to OSU's Insect ID Clinic last year in response to concerns from farmers, apiculturists and the general public about honeybee health. It checks for the presence of non-viral diseases and pests, including American and European foulbrood, chalkbrood, stonebrood and Varroa mites.

Young’s survey did confirm that American foulbrood and Varroa mites continue to be what he called "a serious threat" to apiculture in Oregon. Young and Sagili plan to conduct a more comprehensive examination of the health of Oregon's honeybees.


Ramesh Sagili,

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Ramesh Sagili

Ramesh Sagili

Study Finds Oldest Trees Grow Slowest – Even as Youngsters

NEWPORT, Ore. – A newly published study has found that the oldest trees in the forest also grow the slowest – and they likely aren’t the prettiest.

These ancient trees, whether they are evergreens or hardwoods, often are stunted and may be growing in a harsh micro-climate, such as in poor soil, in the shade of larger neighbors, or on a slope. Slow-growing trees “co-mingle” with faster-growing trees, the study found, and why the trees grow at different rates likely is a combination of genetics and environment.

“It has always been suspected but never proven that within a species, old trees grow slower,” said Bryan Black, an assistant professor of forestry at Oregon State University, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. “The oldest trees, though, are not necessarily the biggest. Even though they have longer lifespans, the long-lived trees grow so slowly that they rarely get as big as their faster-growing, shorter-lived counterparts.

“That creates implications for management because this slow growth is apparent within the first 50 years,” Black added. “If the goal for a certain forest is timber production, resource managers may want to develop strategies to enhance fast-growing trees. The flip side would be logical if the goal was to produce an old-growth forest.”

Results of the meta-analysis study were published in the recent issue of the journal Ecoscience.

Black, who often works with marine scientists, said the study was inspired by his collaboration with fisheries research, where slow growth among long-lived individuals has long been accepted. A dendrochronologist, he began his research looking at how tree rings might contain clues to climate change and has studied similar age rings in the shells of clams and other bivalves and in the otoliths (ear bones) of long-lived fish.

In his analysis of old trees, Black combed through tree-ring studies looking at Douglas-fir, white oak, ponderosa pine and eastern hemlock and found the same held true regardless of species or location – old trees grow more slowly, and it begins early in their lives.

“Faster growing trees may put all of their energy into growth and burn out before they can achieve really old age,” he said. “Slow-growing trees may invest a lot in producing strong wood and defense mechanisms against insects and disease and never rise above the forest canopy.”

Why these different trees co-mingle is something of a mystery, Black admits. It may be a “tortoise-and-hare” situation.

Rapidly growing trees may occupy space more quickly, reach sexual maturity earlier, and are more prone to frequent, catastrophic disturbances, including flood, fire and windstorms, Black said. They also die at a younger age. Meanwhile, the slower growing trees channel their energy into structural support and defense compounds, don’t burn out from reproducing, and slowly-but-surely outpace their mercurial cousins.

These Methuselah-like trees are, in a word, “rugged,” Black said.

“These long-lived trees grow slowly – but not too slow,” Black said. “It seems to be some kind of balance that the trees grow at just the right pace for their environment and the conditions stop just short of causing them to die. The lesson is that there may be even greater diversity to our forests than we had realized.

“Moreover, this study adds to the growing body of research that links slow growth with longevity,” Black added. “It’s certainly true of animal species and apparently it is a phenomenon also shared by trees.”

Story By: 

Bryan Black,

OSU Oceanographer, Forest Hydrologist Named AGU Fellows

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Clare Reimers, a professor of chemical oceanography at Oregon State University, and Jeffrey McDonnell, an OSU forest hydrologist, have been elected fellows of the American Geophysical Union.

The international scientific organization focuses on the understanding of the Earth and space, and promotes research, education and outreach in fields including geology, oceanography, atmospheric sciences, hydrology, seismology, and others.

Acceptance as AGU fellows is restricted to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the association’s members.

Reimers is on the faculty of OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, and also works out of the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. Her research has focused on the biogeochemistry of ocean sediments and the development of chemical sensors for quantifying ocean chemical distribution and fluxes. Most recently she received attention for her efforts to develop long-term power sources for ocean sensors that harness energy from marine sediments and phytoplankton.

These power sources are similar to batteries but they are fueled with decaying plankton and catalyzed by bacteria. “The ocean is rich in microorganisms adept at shuttling electrons to fuel cell electrodes,” Reimers said.

Reimers also is leading a research program aimed at developing the capability to assess from ocean observatories how the benthic component of the coastal carbon cycle may vary over time and contribute or respond to human impacts and climate variability. Her studies have been funded by the National Science Foundation, NOAA, the Department of Defense and other sources.

McDonnell is a professor of forest engineering and holder of the Richardson Chair in Watershed Science in OSU’s College of Forestry. He is an expert on watershed hydrology, runoff processes and modeling, isotope hydrology and watershed theory. He leads the hill slope and watershed hydrology group at OSU, which tries to gain a general understanding of runoff generation processes in diverse watersheds. It answers basic questions such as where water goes when it rains, or what path it takes to the stream channel.

An OSU faculty member since 1999, McDonnell has received many career awards and honors, and authored more than 150 professional journal articles. He has received the Dalton Medal from the European Geophysical Union, the Gordon Warwick Award from the British Geomorphological Research Group, the Nystrom Award from the Association of American Geographers and the DSc from the University of Canterbury.

Last year, three OSU faculty members were elected as AGU fellows – all from the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences – Dudley Chelton, Robert Duncan and Anne Trehu. Nick Pisias, a professor in the college, was named a fellow in 1999. Emeritus faculty John Allen, Brent Dalrymple and Bernd Simoneit also are members.

Reimers and McDonnell will be honored at the association’s general assembly May 24-27 in Toronto, Canada.

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