OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

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.”

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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

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Pika photo by Clinton Epps

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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.

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

Media advisory: Oregon State wildfire experts

MEDIA ADVISORY

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.”

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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.

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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

OSU again named green college by Princeton Review

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University received 95 points out of a possible 99 as a ‘green’ school in the latest edition of “The Princeton Review’s Guide to 332 Green Colleges: 2014 Edition.”

The Princeton Review tallies its Green Rating scores based on institutional data it obtains from colleges in response to survey questions focused on alternative transportation, advancing sustainability, waste-diversion rate and other related topics.

“It’s great to be recognized by Princeton Review for a fourth year in a row,” said Brandon Trelstad, OSU’s sustainability coordinator. “I believe it’s OSU’s diverse and broad sustainability efforts that have gotten us this far.  Student efforts, specifically, have been key in maintaining our leadership role.”

The guide is the only free comprehensive resource of its kind. It can be downloaded at http://www.princetonreview.com/green-guide and http://www.centerforgreenschools.org/greenguide.  It does not rank schools hierarchically, but each school’s green score can be found in their school profile on the main site (http://www.princetonreview.com/).

“Sustainability at OSU is a campus-wide endeavor that includes areas of institutional strength, like research, diversity, affordability, sustainability coordination and governance,” Trelstad said. “We are lucky to have high on- and off-campus community involvement in addressing campus and community sustainability.”

Among OSU’s green highlights were an overall waste diversion rate of 40 percent, its environmentally based degrees including ecological engineering, and the fact that the campus is in the process of bringing online five planned ground-mounted solar electrical arrays that will generate 2.9 megawatts of solar power.

"Best of all, OSU will help you put that academic knowledge into practice; it hosts a Nonprofit Career Day, with significant participation from national and local green groups," the guide states.

The Princeton Review created its "Guide to 332 Green Colleges" in partnership with the Center for Green Schools (www.usgbc.org) at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)), with generous support from United Technologies Corp. (www.utc.com), founding sponsor of the Center for Green Schools.

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Brandon Trelstad, 541-737-3307; Brandon.trelstad@oregonstate.edu

2014 Starker Lectures at OSU to explore “Working Forests”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The 2014 Starker Lecture Series at Oregon State University will begin on Thursday, Feb. 6, when speaker John Gordon outlines the future of forestry in Oregon. The theme for this year’s series is “Working Forests Across the Landscape.”

Gordon is the Pinchot Professor emeritus and former dean of the Yale University School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. His free public talk, which begins at 3:30 p.m. in Richardson Hall Room 107, is titled “Forestry Diversity: A Key to Oregon’s Future.”

The Starker Lectures are sponsored by the OSU College of Forestry and funded primarily through a donation by the Starker family in memory of T.J. and Bruce Starker, late leaders of the Oregon forest industry, with support from the college and the Oregon Forest Resources Institute. Each year, the lecture series explores forestry issues in the Northwest and beyond.

Other events in the 2014 series include:

  • Feb. 27 Lecture – “A Luxuriant Landscape: Oregon’s Working Forest Landscapes, an Ecological Perspective,” by Tom Spies, a research forester with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station (3:30 to 5 p.m., Richardson Hall 107);
  • April 24 Lecture – “Beyond Boundaries: Social Challenges and Opportunities in Forest Landscape Management,” by Paige Fischer, a research social scientist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center (3:30 to 5 p.m., Richardson Hall 107);
  • May 29 Capstone Field Trip – A tour of the Cool Soda All Lands Collaborative Project in Linn County, led by representatives of Cascade Timber Consulting, South Santiam Watershed Council, U.S. Forest Service, and the Sweet Home Ranger District (9 a.m. to 4 p.m.). Registration is required by May 20.

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

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Jessica Fontaine, 541-737-3161; Jessica.fontaine@oregonstate.edu

Climate center at OSU gets major grant to study forest mortality

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has received a five-year, $4 million grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to investigate increasing impacts of drought, insect attacks and fires on forests in the western U.S., and to project how the influence of climate change may affect forest die-offs in the future.

The researchers will also enhance an earth system model to allow them to predict when forests are becoming vulnerable to physiological stress and then create strategies to minimize impacts of climate, insects and fire.

“The western United States has gone through two decades of devastating forest loss and we don’t even fully know why it happened, much less how to predict these events,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at OSU and a principal investigator on the grant. “Certainly wildfire, bark beetle infestation and drought play a role, but the intersection of these factors with forest management decisions hasn’t been well-explored.

“A change in severity of drought, for example, can make the difference between trees losing some needles and wiping out the entire stand,” added Mote, a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU. “The margin between life and death in the forest can be rather small.”

Other lead investigators from OSU on the project include Beverly Law, a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, who will focus on modeling forest processes with the Community Land Model; and Andrew Plantinga, a professor in the Department of Applied Economics, whose expertise is on the economics of land use, climate change and forests.

“Climate variation and extremes can impact trees differently depending on species-specific traits that determine how they compete and respond to environmental conditions,” Law said. “We know little about how physiological limits vary by species, and have not incorporated such knowledge in earth system models.”

The OSU researchers note that forest management decisions could potentially play a role during periods of drought, for example. Drought-stressed trees become vulnerable when they experience vapor pressure deficits – and cannot take in enough water to sustain them, or to remain vigorous enough to help repel invading bark beetles, said Law, who is co-lead principal investigator on the project.

An excess of trees in an area of limited water might benefit from targeted thinning so fewer trees remain to compete for the same amount of water, Law noted. However, forests that already have low densities “are not expected to respond well,” she said.

“What we don’t know,” Mote said, “is what the threshold is between stress and mortality, which trees to thin and how many, and whether such a strategy not only works, but is economically feasible for landowners.”

Law said the intervention strategies “should not result in potentially harmful ecological impacts on habitat and soil quality.”

Among the goals of the project are to:

  • Improve the ability of a leading land surface model to predict tree mortality;
  • Map the vulnerability of western forests to mortality under present and future climate conditions,  particularly in Oregon, Washington, California and Idaho;
  • Apply forest vulnerability data to forest sector models to help land managers better predict ecological and economic outcomes, including timber production, forest recreation and water use.

As part of the study, the researchers will run computer models that will utilize a crowd-sourced computing effort called Weatherathome.net, through which a network of thousands of volunteers will use their home computers to run climate model scenarios. Such a network can equal or exceed the output of a supercomputer.

The OSU grant is part of the inter-agency Decadal and Regional Climate Prediction Using Earth System Models Program, which is coordinated by the National Science Foundation and includes USDA and the Department of Energy.

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Phil Mote, 541-737-5694

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Dying trees

Forest die-off