environment and natural resources

Hydropeaking of river water levels is disrupting insect survival, river ecosystems

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A group of researchers concluded today in a study in the journal BioScience that “hydropeaking” of water flows on many rivers in the West has a devastating impact on aquatic insect abundance.

The research was based in part on a huge citizen science project with more than 2,500 samples taken on the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon, and collaboration of researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey, Oregon State University, Utah State University and Idaho State University. 

It raises serious questions about the current practice of raising river volumes up and down every day – known as hydropeaking – to meet hour-by-hour electricity demand, which has nearly wiped out local populations of some insects that feed local river ecosystems.

“Insects have evolved to live with occasional extreme floods and droughts, and gradual or seasonal changes in river levels,” said David Lytle, a professor of integrative biology in the OSU College of Science. 

“These large daily rises and peaks in river flows due to hydropower dams are not normal. Prior to the construction of dams, there were almost no major daily changes in river levels. This can interrupt the egg-laying practices of some species, and the impact of this is poorly appreciated. Until now no one really looked at this, and it’s a serious problem.”

Hydropeaking is used around the world and is particularly common with hydropower dams in the American West. Rivers are some of the most extensively altered ecosystems on Earth, the researchers wrote in their study, and more than 800,000 dams exist globally. Hydropower provides 19 percent of the world’s electricity supply and far exceeds the generation of all other renewable sources combined. 

Lytle is a national expert on how organisms and communities are shaped by disturbances such as floods, droughts, and dams, with much of his research focused on aquatic insects. Hydropower dams, in this case, have a particular impact on insects that lay their eggs near the shore of streams, such as a mayfly, stonefly or caddis fly. Given normal water conditions, the eggs are laid slightly below the water surface and soon hatch. But if the water level drops suddenly, they can be stranded, dry out and die before hatching.

In this study, the researchers found a clear correlation between hydropeaking and the number of insect species present, and an almost complete absence of certain insects in some parts of rivers where they should have been present – including the Colorado River downstream of Glen Canyon and Hoover Dams. A majority of aquatic insects are vulnerable to this phenomenon, the scientists said in their report, and they can be “subject to acute mortality.” 

Some of these insects, Lytle said, are the food base for fish, birds, bats, and other wildlife.

“The loss of these aquatic insects can have a major impact on fisheries and other aspects of ecosystem health,” Lytle said. 

The researchers did point out in their study that one possible way to address the problem might be to leave river levels stable for several days at a time – possibly on weekends when electricity demands did not vary as much – so that insects could lay their eggs with success. This might help address but not totally solve the problem, Lytle said.

It’s been known that dams can impose serious environmental problems, including alterations of flow, temperature, sediment regimes and migratory fish barriers. However, the researchers called the impact of dams on aquatic insects a “hitherto unrecognized life history bottleneck.”

“For the first time, this study determines the ecological impacts of hydropeaking separated from other dam-imposed stressors, and identifies the specific cause-and-effect relationships responsible for biodiversity loss below hydroelectric dams,” said Ted Kennedy, a USGS scientist and lead author of the study. “These results may help resource managers improve river health while still meeting societal needs for renewable hydroelectricity.”

Funding for this study was provided by the Bureau of Reclamation’s Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Southwest Biological Science Center, and the Department of Energy’s Western Area Power Administration.

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Coal-tar based sealcoats on driveways, parking lots far more toxic than suspected

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The pavement sealcoat products used widely around the nation on thousands of asphalt driveways and parking lots are significantly more toxic and mutagenic than previously suspected, according to a new paper published this week by researchers from Oregon State University.

Of particular concern are the sealcoat products based on use of coal tar emulsions, experts say. Studies done with zebrafish – an animal model that closely resembles human reaction to toxic chemicals – showed developmental toxicity to embryos. 

Sealcoats are products often sprayed or brushed on asphalt pavements to improve their appearance and extend their lifespan. Products based on coal tar are most commonly used east of the U.S. continental divide, and those based on asphalt most common west of the divide.

The primary concern in sealcoats are polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, which are common products of any type of combustion, and have been shown to be toxic to birds, fish, amphibians, plants and mammals, including humans. 

There are many different types of PAHs. This study was able to examine the presence and biologic activity of a much greater number of them in sealcoats than has been done in any previous research. The OSU program studying PAHs is one of the most advanced of its type in the world, and can identify and analyze more than 150 types of PAH compounds.

It found some PAHs in coal tar sealcoats that were 30 times more toxic than one of the most common PAH compounds that was studied previously in these products by the U.S. Geological Survey. 

The OSU study also showed that new PAH compounds found in coal tar sealcoats had a carcinogenic risk that was 4 percent to 40 percent higher than any study had previously showed. Among the worst offenders were a group of 11 “high molecular weight” PAH derivative compounds, of which no analysis had previously been reported.

By contrast, the study showed that sealcoats based on asphalt, more commonly used in the West, were still toxic, but far less than those based on coal tar. Use of coal tar sealcoats, which are a byproduct of the coal coking process, is most common in the Midwest and East. 

The research was reported this week in Environmental Science and Technology Letters, in work supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science’s Superfund Research Program, and done by researchers in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences and OSU College of Science.

“Our study is consistent with previous findings made by the USGS,” said Staci Simonich, a professor with appointments in OSU’s departments of Environmental and Molecular Toxicology and Chemistry. “But we were able to study a much wider number of PAH compounds than they did. As a result, we found even higher levels of toxicity in coal-tar based sealcoats than has previously been suspected.” 

“This should assist individuals and municipalities to make more informed decisions about the use of sealcoats and weigh their potential health risks against the benefits of these products,” said Simonich, the corresponding author on the study. “And if a decision is made to use sealcoats, we concluded that the products based on asphalt are significantly less toxic than those based on coal tar.”

The previous research done by the USGS about the potential health risks of sealcoat products has been controversial, with some industry groups arguing that the federal government agency overstated the risks. The new OSU study indicates that previous research has, if anything, understated the risks. 

A 2011 report from the USGS outlined how PAH compounds from sealcoat products can find their way into soils, storm waters, ponds, streams, lakes, and even house dust, as the compounds are tracked by foot, abraded by car tires, washed by rain and volatilize into the air. They reported that the house dust in residences adjacent to pavement that had been treated with a coal tar-based sealcoat had PAH concentrations 25 times higher than those normally found in house dust.

Some states and many municipalities around the nation have already banned the use of coal tar-based sealcoats, due to the human, wildlife and environmental health concerns. In the European Union, use of coal tar-based sealcoats is limited or banned.

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Staci Simonich, 541-737-9194 or staci.simonich@oregonstate.edu

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Researcher Staci Simonich

Staci Simonich, OSU professor

OSU lecture to explore the 'Lost City' and ocean research

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A veteran of more than 50 dives to the ocean floor in the submersible Alvin will describe in a lecture at Oregon State University a remarkable new underwater warm spring system she discovered.

Deborah Kelley’s find, dubbed “Lost City,” is the focus of the annual Hydrothermal Vent Discovery Lecture, hosted by OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. This free public talk will begin at 4 p.m. on Friday, April 1, in OSU’s Gilfillan Auditorium.

In 2000, Kelley discovered a new kind of seafloor hot spring vent in the Atlantic Ocean, with huge limestone spires hosting a novel assemblage of organisms.

“This astounding vent system, ‘Lost City,’ possesses a unique chemistry which supports a novel ecosystem,” said OSU oceanographer Robert Collier, one of the organizers of the lectures.

“This discovery vastly expands the regions of the seafloor still to be explored for hydrothermal vents," added OSU oceanographer Martin Fisk, another organizer of the events. 

Kelley is a marine geologist whose dives in the Alvin probe the ocean to a depth of 4,000 meters, or more than 13,000 feet. The hot springs at these vent sites can reach temperatures of more than 680 degrees Fahrenheit. 

She also will give a seminar on Thursday, March 31, at noon in Burt Hall Room 193 on research opportunities using the Cabled Observatory off the Oregon coast – part of the National Science Foundation-funded Ocean Observatories Initiative. OSU is one of the leaders on the project.

The lecture series celebrates the discovery of hydrothermal vents and their ecosystems on mid-ocean ridges in 1977 by a research team that included OSU scientists. Since that initial discovery, more than 300 vent fields have been explored.

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Martin Fisk, 541-737-5208, mfisk@coas.oregonstate.edu

Study: Future for charismatic pika not as daunting as once feared

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The American pika is thought by many biologists to be a prime candidate for extirpation as the planet continues to warm, done in by temperatures too severe for this small mammal native to cold climates.

But a new study, published this week in the journal Global Change Biology, paints a different, more complex future for this rock-dwelling little lagomorph – the same order that includes rabbits and hares. Pikas may survive, even thrive, in some areas, the researchers say, while facing extirpation in others.

The research is important because pikas are considered a sentinel species for climate change impacts. 

Led by Oregon State University post-doctoral researcher Donelle Schwalm, the study delved into where pikas live and how they move among habitat patches. The team used that information to create species distribution models for eight National Park Service areas in the western United States and forecast pika distribution 30, 60 and 90 years into the future, based on expected climate change scenarios.

The Pikas in Peril research project, funded by the National Park Service, was launched in 2010 to determine how vulnerable the animals are to climate change in eight NPS units. 

“If you look at the overall picture, the amount of suitable habitat will decline and temperatures will warm in most of these National Parks,” Schwalm said. “But many of these sites have areas that are colder, higher and sometimes wetter than other areas, and pikas should do quite well there.

“In some parks, risk of extinction will increase,” she added. “But in other parks, like Grand Teton and Lassen, their populations should remain stable.” 

Pikas seek out icy pockets in rock fields or lava flows and live near other pikas in small patches of these cool habitats. One key to their survival appears to be maintaining connectivity among different pika patches, which keeps a satisfactory level of genetic diversity among the broader population and allows for the inevitable downturns in survival due to weather, predation, disease and other factors, noted Clinton Epps, an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and co-author on the study.

“If you just have three or four pikas in a given area, that’s a pretty small group and at the patch level, they can wink out pretty quickly,” said Epps, who studies habitat connectivity for many animal species. “But if you can maintain good connectivity, pikas can disperse from other patches and the overall system remains strong as long as habitat remains generally suitable.” 

The study found that connectivity influenced where pikas persist in most of the eight parks, and thus must be incorporated in forecasts of future pika populations, the researchers noted.

The ideal habitat for pikas is a high-elevation, cold boulder field with north- and east-facing slopes that is adjacent to similar boulder fields. The herbivorous pikas also need access to high-quality forage, including forbs, grasses, sedges, twigs, moss and lichen, said Thomas Rodhouse, a biologist with the National Park Service. 

“The study is important because it suggests that some parks may be more appropriate areas to focus our resources than others,” Rodhouse said. “If we look at it on a system-wide basis, the pika should survive. But we can’t say that they will be thriving, or even present, at all eight parks down the road.”

“We potentially could move pikas from vulnerable areas to locations with suitable habitat,” Rodhouse added. “Or we could discuss enhancing habitat and creating more connectivity, though you have to examine whether that is something we should be doing in a National Park. But this study allows us to begin having these strategic discussions.” 

Study results for the eight National Park Service units suggest that:

  • Crater Lake National Park’s pikas already occupy the highest-elevation habitat, thus there is no refuge to which pikas may escape. Warming temperatures, particularly in winter, may reduce the insulating snow layer and decrease patch occupancy by 50 to 100 percent;
  • Craters of the Moon National Monument is hotter and drier than the other parks and the best habitat is occupied. Although temperature and precipitation may change in this park, it appears that the pika will persist, although at lower numbers;
  • Grand Teton National Park has exceptional connectivity among habitat patches, which likely will persist over time. Cool temperatures and increasing precipitation at high elevations make this park an important refuge for the species;
  • Great Sand Dunes is a cool, dry park and pika populations may experience slight declines initially, but they also could increase over time as precipitation is projected to increase in the future;
  • Lassen Volcanic National Park has pikas well-distributed through the talus boulder fields and lava flows. Strong connectivity suggests pikas will persist under most climate change scenarios;
  • Lava Beds National Monument is unusually hot, dry and low in elevation, though the extensive lava flow is good habitat. Climate change modeling in this park was inconclusive, but low genetic diversity and warming suggests that this population is vulnerable;
  • Rocky Mountain National Park’s low elevations and south-facing slopes are impediments to gene flow. Rising temperatures, especially during the winter, and changing connectivity result in increasing likelihood of pika extirpation by the end of the century;
  • Yellowstone National Park also is predicted to see complete extirpation of pikas under most climate change scenarios because of warming and loss of connectivity.

As a sentinel species, pikas may provide a clue to how other animals react to climate change, the researchers note. “They can act as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, but they’re also just really cute, charismatic little animals,” Schwalm said. “There is a lot of public interest in preserving the pikas.”

Story By: 

Doni Schwalm, 806-252-6074, doni.schwalm@oregonstate.edu; Clint Epps, 541-737-2478, clinton.epps@oregonstate.edu; Tom Rodhouse, 541-312-6425, tom.rodhouse@nps.gov

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Pika photo by Drew Rush


Pika photo by Clinton Epps


NSF selects Oregon State to build cohorts of leaders in marine science, data and policy

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University this fall will begin selecting graduate students for a bold new program to train cohorts of students that will tackle emerging issues in marine science.

The National Science Foundation chose Oregon State to develop the program, which focuses on the use of “big data” to analyze and understand the effects of human activities and climate change on the ocean system around the world. It also requires students to look at the impact of potential management decisions on the stakeholders – the fishing industry, for example – as well as the environment. 

This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) program is being funded by a five-year, $3 million grant from NSF.

“This really is a new approach to the training of students in natural resource education,” said Lorenzo Ciannelli, a professor of ocean ecology in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and principal investigator on the project. “Typically, students in science focus on a comparatively narrow area of the discipline and work individually. 

“In our NRT program, students will address marine science issues with significant societal impact and will have to work in a group with 2-3 other students who have different backgrounds and expertise,” he added. “They will not only have to understand the science, but what it means for the resource management, and the people that it impacts.”

A core group of faculty from the colleges of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Engineering, Liberal Arts and Science will provide leadership on the project, bringing to the initiative such diverse backgrounds as mathematics, human development and family science, sociology, genetics, computer science, ocean modeling, statistics, geography and others. 

Requiring students to work across disciplines is what they’ll encounter in the working world, said Sastry Pantula, dean of OSU’s College of Science, which is actively involved in the new program.

“Solving major complex issues related to climate change, marine studies and risk assessment requires people to have a diversity of expertise to work together,” Pantula said. “No single person has expertise in all sciences, mathematics and statistics. Bringing an interdisciplinary cohort together will enhance depth in core areas, breadth of communication across various fields, and strength in statistical and computational skills. This program takes advantage of the unique collaborative spirit of OSU.”

The program will provide for more than 30 fellowships for OSU master’s and doctoral students, and has room for perhaps an additional 30 students if they have an alternative funding source, Ciannelli said. The students and participating faculty will decide on the projects.

One example of an issue is what the university included in its proposal to NSF – the management of chinook salmon along the Oregon coast. 

“If you look at chinook, the management is rather complicated,” Ciannelli pointed out. “The fishery is comprised of numerous different stocks, some of which are doing well, like the Columbia River, and others which are struggling, like that of the southern range, including the Klamath River and Sacramento River.

“But when you catch fish out in the ocean, you aren’t sure where they’re from, so how do you gauge the impact on a particular river basin system?” he added. “The challenge is to see if you can create a fine-scale management tool that might be allow more fishing, yet protect depleted stocks. Or it may turn out that the students will find the current management system is the best approach for the situation.”

OSU researchers, including Professor Michael Banks, Ph.D. student Renee Bellinger and others, already are involved in a project along the coast to use genetic identification on fish caught in the ocean to identify their river of origin in hopes of enabling “real-time” management protocols. 

“I would envision some of our students working on that project,” Ciannelli said.

Pantula said the amount of data involved in such studies can be staggering, weaving in not only salmon catch data, but also ocean conditions, genetic analysis, historic data, and climate data. The program’s focus on ‘big data,’ risk assessment and uncertainty quantification is important, he said, because such analysis is becoming an increasingly important research tool. The integration of policy implications and communication to stakeholders and the public is essential. 

“This program also fits in greatly with OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative and the critical need to enhance data science on campus,” Pantula said.

Story By: 

Lorenzo Ciannelli, 541-737-3142, lciannelli@coas.oregonstate.edu; Sastry Pantula, 541-737-4811, Sastry.Pantula@oregonstate.edu

Media advisory: Oregon State wildfire experts


The following Oregon State University faculty members have expertise related to wildfire issues and are willing to speak with journalists. Their specific expertise, and contact information, is listed below.  For help with other OSU faculty experts, contact Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788, mark.floyd@oregonstate.edu.

OSU wildfire experts

John Bailey, 541-737-1497, john.bailey@oregonstate.edu

Bailey studies the role of forest management in accomplishing landowner objectives, including fire resilience, habitat and restoration. His areas of expertise include:

  • Fuels management for fire risk reduction
  • Wildland fire ecology
  • Prescribed fire

Stephen Fitzgerald, 541-737-3562, stephen.fitzgerald@oregonstate.edu

Amy Jo Detweiler, 541-548-6088, amyjo.detweiler@oregonstate.edu

Detweiler and Fitzgerald are faculty members in the OSU Extension Service and co-authors of a publication, Fire-Resistant Plants for Home Landscapes, published in 2006 and due to be updated next year. They can discuss ways for homeowners to reduce fire risk to their homes.

  • Types of shrubs and trees that are less likely to burn
  • Maintenance tips for fire resistant plantings
  • Bark mulches and other ground covers
  • Fuel reduction around homes


Beverly Law, 541-737-6111, bev.law@oregonstate.edu

Law is a professor in the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society and former Science Chair of the Ameriflux network. She studies carbon and water cycling in ecosystems and exchange with the atmosphere, including the forests of the Pacific Northwest. She has focused on, among other topics, the role of fire in the carbon cycle. She can comment on:

  • Modeling ecosystem responses to disturbances such as fire and insects
  • The effects of climate change, fire and forest management on carbon and water cycles
  • The combination of remote sensing and field observations to understand regional ecosystem processes


Claire Montgomery, 541-737-1362, claire.montgomery@oregonstate.edu

Montgomery studies the economic implications of fire management decisions, from the initial determination whether to let a fire burn or to put it out. She can address the likely impacts of fire management decisions on the value of timber and other forest resources in the future.

  • Incentives for cost-effective wildland fire management
  • Community considerations of forest fuel treatments
  • The opportunity costs of fire suppression


Roger Hammer, 541-760-1009, rhammer@oregonstate.edu

Hammer is a professor in the School of Public Policy and studies the interface between communities and undeveloped lands such as forests. He studies strategies to mitigate fire risk in the face of urban development. He can comment on:

  • U.S. demographic trends at the urban-wildland interface
  • Fire risk and development at the urban-wildland interface
  • New construction after a fire

Kathie Dello, 541-737-8927, kdello@coas.oregonstate.edu

Dello is the deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service and associate director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute. She studies Pacific Northwest weather patterns and compiles reports for use by businesses and government agencies. She can comment on weather patterns as they influence fire risk, including:

  • Long-term trends in Pacific Northwest weather
  • The impact of landscape features (mountains, forests) on weather
  • Weather data collection by citizens


Compiled by Nick Houtman

541-737-0783, nick.houtman@oregonstate.edu

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Nick Houtman, 541-737-0783

OSU’s Starker Lecture Series to focus on Douglas-fir

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University’s annual Starker Lecture Series will focus this year on the Pacific Northwest’s most iconic tree – the Douglas-fir – which had its first major planting 100 years ago.

The series is hosted by the OSU College of Forestry. It kicks off on Thursday, Jan. 29, with a screening of the documentary, “Finding David Douglas.”

The film, which looks at the 19th-century Scottish botanist’s compelling life of adventure and discovery, begins at 7 p.m. at the Whiteside Theatre in Corvallis, located at 361 S.W. Madison Ave. Director and historian Lois Leonard will be on hand for a discussion with the audience after the film. The event is free and open to the public.

On Thursday, Feb. 5, a workshop will be held on “Objectives-Driven Silviculture” at the Linn County Expo Center, located at 3700 Knox Butte Rd. in Albany. The workshop is sponsored by the Mary’s Peak Chapter of the Society of American Foresters.

Free public lectures in the series include:

  • Feb. 12 - “Every Reason to Hope: David Douglas and Pacific Northwest Trees,” by Jack Nisbet, author of a book on the botanist titled “David Douglas: The Collector and Naturalist at Work.” 3 p.m. Richardson Hall Room 107. A book signing will follow. OSU professor emeritus Richard Hermann will sign copies of a new book, “Douglas-fir: The Genus Pseudotsuga,” which he co-authored with OSU professor emeritus Denis Lavender.
  • March 12 – “A Contemporary View of Douglas-fir Silviculture,” by Chad Oliver, the Pinchot Professor of Forestry and Environment and director of the Global Institute of Sustainable Forests. 3:30 p.m. Richardson Hall Room 107.
  • April 16 – “Innovative Applications of Douglas-fir in Building Design,” by Ethan Martin, Northwest regional director of WoodWorks, an initiative of the Wood Products Council. 3:30 p.m. Richardson Hall Room 107.

On Thursday, May 14, the series will conclude with a capstone field trip where participants will tour managed forests, a wood products research and testing lab, and a commercial processing facility, as well as learn about new architectural uses for wood.

The Starker Lecture Series is sponsored by the Starker family in memory of T.J. and Bruce Starker, prominent leaders in the development of the Oregon forest products industry. The series is also supported by the OSU College of Forestry and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute.

More information on the series is available at http://starkerlectures.forestry.oregonstate.edu

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OSU College of Forestry, 541-737-2004

Iron, steel in hatcheries may distort magnetic “map sense” of steelhead

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Exposure to iron pipes and steel rebar, such as the materials found in most hatcheries, affects the navigation ability of young steelhead trout by altering the important magnetic “map sense” they need for migration, according to new research from Oregon State University.

The exposure to iron and steel distorts the magnetic field around the fish, affecting their ability to navigate, said Nathan Putman, who led the study while working as a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, part of OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

Just last year Putman and other researchers presented evidence of a correlation between the oceanic migration patterns of salmon and drift of the Earth’s magnetic field. Earlier this year they confirmed the ability of salmon to navigate using the magnetic field in experiments at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center. Scientists for decades have studied how salmon find their way across vast stretches of ocean.

“The better fish navigate, the higher their survival rate,” said Putman, who conducted the research at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center in the Alsea River basin last year. “When their magnetic field is altered, the fish get confused.”

Subtle differences in the magnetic environment within hatcheries could help explain why some hatchery fish do better than others when they are released into the wild, Putman said. Stabilizing the magnetic field by using alternative forms of hatchery construction may be one way to produce a better yield of fish, he said.

“It’s not a hopeless problem,” he said. “You can fix these kinds of things. Retrofitting hatcheries with non-magnetic materials might be worth doing if it leads to making better fish.”

Putman’s findings were published this week in the journal Biology Letters. The research was funded by Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, with support from Oregon State University. Co-authors of the study are OSU’s David Noakes, senior scientist at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center, and Amanda Meinke of the Oregon Hatchery Research Center.

The new findings follow earlier research by Putman and others that confirmed the connection between salmon and the Earth’s magnetic field. Researchers exposed hundreds of juvenile Chinook salmon to different magnetic fields that exist at the latitudinal extremes of their oceanic range.

Fish responded to these “simulated magnetic displacements” by swimming in the direction that would bring them toward the center of their marine feeding grounds. In essence, the research confirmed that fish possess a map sense, determining where they are and which way to swim based on the magnetic fields they encounter.

Putman repeated that experiment with the steelhead trout and achieved similar results. He then expanded the research to determine if changes to the magnetic field in which fish were reared would affect their map sense. One group of fish was maintained in a fiberglass tank, while the other group was raised in a similar tank but in the vicinity of iron pipes and a concrete floor with steel rebar, which produced a sharp gradient of magnetic field intensity within the tank. Iron pipes and steel reinforced concrete are common in fish hatcheries.

The scientists monitored and photographed the juvenile steelhead, called parr, and tracked the direction in which they were swimming during simulated magnetic displacement experiments. The steelhead reared in a natural magnetic field adjusted their map sense and tended to swim in the same direction. But fish that were exposed to the iron pipes and steel-reinforced concrete failed to show the appropriate orientation and swam in random directions.

More research is needed to determine exactly what that means for the fish. The loss of their map sense could be temporary and they could recalibrate their magnetic sense after a period of time, Putman said. Alternatively, if there is a critical window in which the steelhead’s map sense is imprinted, and it is exposed to an altered magnetic field then, the fish could remain confused forever, he said.

“There is evidence in other animals, especially in birds, that either is possible,” said Putman, who now works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We don’t know enough about fish yet to know which is which. We should be able to figure that out with some simple experiments.”

Story By: 

Nathan Putman, 205-218-5276 or Nathan.putman@gmail.com; or David Noakes, 541-737-1953, David.noakes@oregonstate.edu

Reflections on wilderness featured at Corvallis Science Pub

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Fifty years ago, Congress passed the Wilderness Act, which today protects nearly 110 million acres in the United States. At the June 9 Corvallis Science Pub, Cristina Eisenberg, an Oregon State University conservation biologist, will discuss why intact wilderness areas matter more today than they did in 1964.

The Science Pub presentation is free and open to the public and begins at 6 p.m. in the Majestic Theater, 115 S.W. Second St. in Corvallis.

Eisenberg’s intimate acquaintance with wilderness stems from 20 years of living with her family in a cabin adjacent to the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. At 1 million acres, it comprises the second-largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states.

In her research, she studies interactions among wolves, elk, aspen and fire. In Rocky Mountain ecosystems, she has shown that relatively intact, large tracts of land are essential to create ecologically resilient landscapes. Such landscapes typically consist of extensive protected wilderness.

She will also read and show images from her recently published book, The Carnivore Way, in which she profiles the Crown of the Continent ecosystem, a 28-million-acre wildlife corridor that runs along the mountainous spine of North America.

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

Story By: 

Cristina Eisenberg, 541-737-7524

Businesses need to plan for, address impacts on biodiversity, new report indicates

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Businesses large and small need to begin the difficult work of assessing and addressing their impact on biodiversity and ecosystem services in order to reduce risk to natural resources in the future, according to a new report from Oregon State University researchers.

Biodiversity and ecosystem services refer to the variety and diversity of plants and animals in the ecosystem and the benefits that nature provides, respectively. They should be part of companies’ strategic planning, said Sally Duncan, director of the OSU Policy Analysis Lab in the School of Public Policy.

“This is an issue of risk management – it has to be part of a strategic plan,” Duncan said. “As one pioneer company leader put it, the greatest risk of all is not doing anything.”

The report, “The New Nature of Business: How Business Pioneers Support Biodiversity and Ecosystems Services,” provides a framework for companies to begin identifying and addressing their potential impacts on the ecosystem.

The report was published this month and is available at www.newnatureofbusiness.org. Partners in the multidisciplinary, international project include Oregon State University and the University of Sydney Business School. Funding comes from the National Science Foundation’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, with additional support from the University of Sydney Business School.

Biodiversity of plants, animals and microorganisms is essential to a properly functioning ecosystem. Ecosystem services are the benefits of such a system, and include goods such as food and fiber or services such as flood control or pest management.

But biodiversity is threatened by environmental degradation due to things such as habitat destruction and climate change. That, in turn, poses challenges for business leaders, who will have to deal with the ramifications, including pressure from consumers to improve business practices.

“There are many, many companies that have started doing important work on water conservation and energy conservation,” Duncan said. “Biodiversity and ecosystem services are much more complicated. They’re very hard to measure and most companies haven’t even thought about it yet.”

Corporate giants Dow Chemical Co., Pfizer Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and smaller organizations such as the Eugene Water and Electric Board, are among the pioneers who are taking steps to address their impacts on biodiversity. Their efforts are highlighted in the report.

Pfizer created a Wildlife Management Team and employees are working to restore and enhance the wildlife on the company’s 2,200-acre manufacturing site in Michigan. Eugene Water and Electric is working with landowners and local government to change land management practices, rather than build a new water treatment plant and charge higher rates.

Researchers developed a decision-making framework to help other companies get started addressing their own impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems services. The hope is that business leaders will use and test the framework and share their experiences on the project website, Duncan said.

“Any change to a big organization is extremely difficult,” Duncan said. “If business leaders see a story on the website that they can relate to, it might seem less scary.”

Developing a tool to measure companies’ impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems services and making that tool available to companies around the world are some of the next steps for the project, she said.

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Sally Duncan, 541-737-9931 or Sally.duncan@oregonstate.edu