OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

environment and natural resources

Overgrazing turning parts of Mongolian Steppe into desert

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Overgrazing by millions of sheep and goats is the primary cause of degraded land in the Mongolian Steppe, one of the largest remaining grassland ecosystems in the world, Oregon State University researchers say in a new report.

Using a new satellite-based vegetation monitoring system, researchers found that about 12 percent of the biomass has disappeared in this country that’s more than twice the size of Texas, and 70 percent of the grassland ecosystem is now considered degraded. The findings were published in Global Change Biology.

Overgrazing accounts for about 80 percent of the vegetation loss in recent years, researchers concluded, and reduced precipitation as a result of climatic change accounted for most of the rest. These combined forces have led to desertification as once-productive grasslands are overtaken by the Gobi Desert, expanding rapidly from the south.

Since 1990 livestock numbers have almost doubled to 45 million animals, caused in part by the socioeconomic changes linked to the breakup of the former Soviet Union, the report said. High unemployment led many people back to domestic herding.

The problem poses serious threats to this ecosystem, researchers say, including soil and water loss, but it may contribute to global climate change as well. Grasslands, depending on their status, can act as either a significant sink or source for atmospheric carbon dioxide.

“This is a pretty serious issue,” said Thomas Hilker, an assistant professor in the OSU College of Forestry. “Regionally, this is a huge area in which the land is being degraded and the food supply for local people is being reduced.

“Globally, however, all ecosystems have a distinct function in world climate,” he said. “Vegetation cools the landscape and plays an important role for the water and carbon balance, including greenhouse gases.”

Even though it was clear that major problems were occurring in Mongolia in the past 20 years, researchers were uncertain whether the underlying cause was overgrazing, climate change or something else. This report indicates that overgrazing is the predominant concern.

Mongolia is a semi-arid region with harsh, dry winters and warm, wet summers. About 79 percent of the country is covered by grasslands, and a huge surge in the number of grazing animals occurred during just the past decade - especially sheep and goats that cause more damage than cattle. Related research has found that heavy grazing results in much less vegetation cover and root biomass, and an increase in animal hoof impacts.

Collaborators on this research included Richard H. Waring, a distinguished professor emeritus of forest ecology from OSU; scientists from NASA and the University of Maryland; and Enkhjargal Natsagdorj, a former OSU doctoral student from Mongolia. The work has been supported by NASA and OSU.

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Thomas Hilker, 541-737-2608

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Overgrazing in Mongolia

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Mongolian herders

$1 million NSF grant aids energy conservation research at Oregon State University

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An Oregon State University researcher has been awarded a $1 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Smart and Connected Communities Program to continue and expand her work on household energy conservation interventions.

The project will be led by Hilary Boudet, an assistant professor of sociology who studies climate change and energy in the School of Public Policy in OSU’s College of Liberal Arts.

The goal of the three-year grant is to teach children, young adults and their families the value and importance of reducing their energy use and to use technology and data visualization techniques from engineering to better track and understand individuals’ energy use and conservation efforts.

“This project combines child- and youth-targeted interventions with data on energy behavior using the latest in ‘smart’ technology to monitor daily household energy use,” Boudet said. “Children are a critical constituency for energy-saving programs. When they adopt energy-saving behaviors at an early age, they are more likely to continue those behaviors as they grow up and move into adulthood.”

The research team also includes Ram Rajagopal, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, and Mahnoosh Alizadeh, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at University of California, Santa Barbara.

The researchers plan to tap into emerging technology, such as smart electrical meters and smart phone apps, to allow for a closer evaluation of participants’ energy use and highlight ways people may be able to conserve more.

“This will allow us to connect our intervention efforts to real energy data, so we can see where changes may be occurring,” Boudet said. “The level of detail we anticipate should give us new insights as to what works best to help people understand – and change – their own energy use.”

They also will test interventions designed to educate children, young adults and families about energy use and conservation; and determine whether the interventions and monitoring result in energy savings. Girl Scout troops, local high schools and a community college will participate in the project, named “Smart and Connected Kids for Sustainable Energy Communities.”

The program will be developed and tested in Fremont, California, where homes are already outfitted with “smart” electrical meters that closely monitor energy use and where researchers have an existing relationship with the Girl Scouts of Northern California. Other partners in the project include Chai Energy, the City of Fremont and Ohlone Community College. 

The project expands on Boudet’s previous energy intervention program, called Girls Learning Environment and Energy, or GLEE. In that project, Boudet and her team developed an energy conservation program for children that was tested with 30 Girl Scout troops and their parents in Northern California.

The children who participated in the program reported increases in energy-saving behaviors, such as turning off power strips at night and washing clothes in cold water, and the behavior continued for seven months after the trial program ended. They also found that the intervention had an effect on parents’ energy-saving behavior for more than eight months.

Boudet anticipates researchers will spend about a year refining the energy education program and developing evaluation procedures. The researchers will begin testing the program in the second year of the grant.

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Hilary Boudet, 541-737-5375, hilary.boudet@oregonstate.edu

Scientists: Oregon dodges a ‘dead zone’ bullet in 2017; hypoxia season similar to wildfire

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Oregon coast is now facing annual threats from hypoxia, or low oxygen, and scientists liken the phenomenon to the wildfire season the state faces every summer and fall.

The oxygen content of Oregon’s near-shore Pacific Ocean waters plummeted to dangerously low levels this summer before a timely storm arrived in mid-September to “flush” the system and ease the threat to many marine creatures. Hypoxia has become a seasonal threat. 

“We are now living on a knife edge in terms of hypoxia, and this year we crossed the threshold into danger,” said Francis Chan, an Oregon State University marine ecologist and an expert on ocean chemistry. “It was one of the worst years we have had in a while and it looked like it was going to get really bad before that storm came in.

“This is something that only happened occasionally in the 20th century, but has been taking place on a near-yearly basis for the past 15 years. The leading hypothesis for why this is happening is that the ocean is changing. Warmer water holds less oxygen, for one, but there also may be increased stratification and other factors.” 

Chan said he and his colleagues began hearing anecdotal reports about abnormal conditions and animal behavior in July. Researchers from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife collected video of crabs in a research trap dying from lack of oxygen. Marine educators at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center said crabs were leaving the ocean to enter bays and estuaries – some even burying themselves in sandy flats exposed to the air at low tide.

Researchers on survey ships run by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told Chan that when they sampled the ocean waters off Oregon this summer for juvenile fish, they caught almost nothing. 

Jack Barth, director of the Marine Studies Initiative at Oregon State and a principal investigator with the National Science Foundation-funded Ocean Observatories Initiative, retrieved data that showed the level of oxygen in the ocean off Yaquina Head – in 25 meters of water – was down to 0.5 milliliters of oxygen per liter of water. That is classified as “severe” hypoxia, he noted.

“It lasted from mid-August to early September,” Barth said, “which is enough time to do some damage, but not as bad as the event in 2006, which killed thousands of crabs and other marine organisms. Oxygen levels were down to zero that year and it persisted well into September. We were lucky this year – we dodged a bullet.” 

When water near the seafloor reaches hypoxic levels – below 1.4 milliliters of oxygen per liter of water – some fish and other creatures have the ability to flee the area and find more oxygenated water. However, some animals don’t have that ability and those that do, when the hypoxia is severe and widespread, may not find a place to go.

“The good thing is that we now have a lot of eyes on the ocean, with more and more people reporting abnormalities,” Chan said. “We can use instrumentation from the Ocean Observatories Initiative, research ships and gliders to determine where the levels of low oxygen are and when they occur, as well as where there may be areas of more oxygenated water. We are learning more each year.” 

Near-shore hypoxia, which can lead to the aforementioned marine “dead zones,” first came to researchers’ attention in 2002 when crabbers pulled up pots of dead crabs, Chan said.

“When you look back to data from the 1950s and 1960s, the low oxygen values were just not there,” he noted. “It’s been much more prevalent over the past 15 or so years. It’s like a special season out there in mid- to late-summer that we can’t see, but is very important. On land, we get smoke and fires. In the ocean, it’s dead crabs.” 

The Oregon legislature has recognized the threat and established an ocean acidification and hypoxia council, which Barth co-chairs. Chan is meeting with fishermen in October to brief them on the oceanographic data OSU has recorded, and to get their insights and observations from up and down the Oregon coast.

“Every year, things get a little weird and though we are observing more of it, there’s still a lot to learn,” Chan said. “This spring, for example, millions of pyrosomes showed up in the water – they are a luminescent, jellyfish-like sea creature that can grow up to two feet long – and no one is sure why, or if they may have contributed to the hypoxia. 

“As the ocean changes, and we experience an annual hypoxia season, we can expect more surprises.”

Chan is in OSU’s College of Science, while Barth is on the faculty of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

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Francis Chan, 541-737-9131; chanft@science.oregonstate.edu; Jack Barth, 541-737-1607, barth@coas.oregonstate.edu

Internationally known water mediator finds spirituality key to transforming conflict

“Depending on the circumstance, you should be: hard as a diamond, flexible as a willow, smooth-flowing as water, or as empty as space.” – from Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido, as quoted in “The Spirit of Dialogue”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Aaron Wolf trained as a groundwater hydrologist and he would often meet with groups of people angry about the fate of their local river or lake, so he used his science background to try to convince them that a solution was at hand.

It usually didn’t work.

So he began to shift his career to engage in conflict resolution and quickly discovered that neither science nor the Western model of resolving conflicts were enough to engage many people around the world. He eventually began looking at how people of faith addressed conflict to see if there were lessons he could translate into his world of water rights. He was surprised to find there were.

After 12 years of traveling and research, the Oregon State University professor has written a book called “The Spirit of Dialogue: Lessons from Faith Traditions in Transforming Conflict,” which will be published by Island Press on Sept. 14. In the book, Wolf describes, for example, how the Buddhist practice of true listening can identify the root cause of anger, and how Christian grace can look at an energy beyond oneself to transform personal goals into community concerns.

As a scientist, Wolf engages religion not for the purpose of dogma, but for the practical process of mediation.

“Many of us were brought up thinking that science will answer all of our questions,” Wolf said, “but people are people and my background is not going to solve all their problems. The Western model of engaging conflict is based on science, pragmatism and often economics. But there also are transcendental moments of sudden understanding that occur by engaging people spiritually.”

Wolf’s “aha moment” came in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he was one of the facilitators at a tense series of meeting about water rights between Azerbaijan and Armenia. After conducting a series of simple ice-breaking exercises, the leader of one of the delegations stood up, threw down his notebook, and began shouting at Wolf from across the room – loudly and angrily, in Russian.

“My fight-or-flight instinct kicked in immediately but I knew that something must have triggered that reaction,” Wolf said. “As it turns out, many of the scientists in former Soviet republics felt marginalized because outsiders coming to ‘help’ them were treating them as if they were uneducated. He said some aid agencies had actually tried to teach him how to properly wash his hands and he had a Ph.D. in biochemistry.

“Now when I work internationally, I try to team up with a local facilitator for precisely this reason – you can never fully understand all the political nuance and sensitivities of a region, and a poorly informed facilitator can do more harm than good.”

Although he has done most of his work with water conflicts – including working as a facilitator in the Middle East with Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian leaders – Wolf believes the lessons he has learned in his career are applicable in many areas.

That includes gun control and climate change.

“When people express anger, it usually is a shield that masks vulnerability,” Wolf said. “So when people get indignant about gun control, it often can mean they feel their physical well-being is threatened. One person will argue that they feel unsafe and therefore want fewer guns on the street. Someone else will have similar feelings of not being safe, but wants more guns around for protection. 

“When you peel away the anger and look at the vulnerability, then you can begin to look for ways to move forward. The good thing about conflict is that it can get two sides into a room to begin a conversation.”

Wolf said climate change arguments frequently result from one group or person expressing disbelief that the other is ignoring overwhelming evidence, while the counter-argument revolves around data manipulation or extrapolating results.

“Many climate skeptics actually believe the Earth is warming, but they don’t believe humans are the cause. Cramming science down their throat hasn’t worked. If you skip the causation for a moment, and begin working on adaptation – “if the Earth is warming, how will we handle it?” – you take the first step toward something positive.”

Wolf said when he began looking at spirituality for lessons, he learned that many faiths look at conflict through the same four lenses – physical, emotional, perceptual and spiritual. He recently returned from the Ganges River region, meeting with water resource managers who were Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist.

“When you sit around a table with them, you can talk from the same construct because of those lenses,” Wolf said. “Then it becomes a matter of transforming conflict by focusing on shared values.” 

Understanding this apparently universal structure is extremely helpful in facilitating difficult conversations, Wolf noted. 

“When I’ve worked on water disputes, the physical or intellectual nature of water is generally the focus of discussion, while it is actually the emotional or spiritual relationship communities have with their water resources that make the dispute so difficult.  Addressing these aspects explicitly allows for the conversation to be elevated and enriched.”

Wolf is a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

Island Press is a non-profit publisher founded in 1984 to shape ideas for solving environmental problems. “The Spirit of Dialogue” is available at: https://islandpress.org/book/the-spirit-of-dialogue

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Source: Aaron Wolf, 541-737-2722, wolfa@geo.oregonstate.edu

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Natural Resources Leadership Academy 2012

Aaron Wolf

Oregon State University 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 Sean Nealon, 541-737-0787, sean.nealon@oregonstate.edu.

Oregon State University 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

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

Law is a professor of global change biology & terrestrial systems science in the OSU Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society. Her research is on drought-related mortality in forests, and the interactive effects of fire, climate, and management on forest carbon and water processes at the ecosystem, state and regional scales. She can comment on:

  • The role of forests in climate change mitigation, including carbon sequestration
  • Carbon emissions from fires, thinning, and bioenergy
  • Drought tolerance of different species
  • Vulnerability of forests to mortality; resilience, and sustainability of forests in the future 

Meg Krawchuk, 541-737-1483, meg.krawchuk@oregonstate.edu

Krawchuk studies fire ecology and fire patterns using data from satellites, maps, management and field collections to understand drivers of where fires occur, the fingerprints they leave behind and the ecological outcomes of burning. She can discuss:

  • How and why historical and modern fire patterns vary across environmental gradients and in different geographies
  • Ecological and social wins and losses associated with fire
  • Fire as an ecosystem process, pros and cons of fire for conservation of biodiversity

Nicole Strong, 541-829-1270, nicole.strong@oregonstate.edu

As an assistant professor in the OSU Extension Service, Strong works with landowners, communities and agencies to manage natural resources, including fire-prone forests. She can discuss:

  • Steps homeowners can take to minimize fire risks on their properties
  • The impact of prescribed burning and thinning as strategies for reducing fire severity
  • Fire’s historic role in our dry forests, forest ecology and what is causing us to experience larger and hotter wildfires

Perry Hystad, 541-737-4829, perry.hystad@oregonstate.edu

Hystad is an environmental epidemiologist who studies the health effects associated with exposure to air pollution, including cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and cancer. He’s currently leading a global study of cardiopulmonary health impacts from outdoor and household air pollution. His areas of expertise include:

  • Health impacts of air pollution from wildfire smoke
  • Differences between smoke and other types of pollution
  • Ways to lessen health impacts of wildfire smoke

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

Detweiler is a faculty member in the OSU Extension Service and a co-author of a publication, “Fire-Resistant Plants for Home Landscapes.” She can discuss the following topics:

  • Types of shrubs and trees that are less likely to burn
  • Maintenance tips for fire-resistant plantings
  • Fuel reduction around homes

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

Lisa Ellsworth, 541-737-1959, lisa.ellsworth@oregonstate.edu

Oregon’s largest wildfires have occurred not in forests but in rangelands where wind-driven grass fires can spread with devastating speed. Lisa Ellsworth, assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, studies the long-term consequences of fire, invasive plants and other factors in forests and the sagebrush country of central and eastern Oregon. She can discuss:

  • How rangeland ecosystems respond to fire
  • The role of fire in creating the habitat and vegetation of western forests and rangelands
  • How invasive plants such as cheat grass and change the rangeland fire regime 

David Blunck, 541-737-7095, david.blunck@oregonstate.edu

Embers are wildfire’s emissaries. By understanding how embers form and travel through the air, scientists can more accurately predict how fire will spread. Blunck, an assistant professor in the College of Engineering is studying the process of ember formation in wind tunnel experiments. He can discuss:

  • How moisture and wood species affect the development of embers
  • How far embers can travel and set spot fires
  • The physics of ember transport

Jeff Hatten, 541-737-8720, jeff.hatten@oregonstate.edu 

Hatten, an associate professor of forest soils, studies the impact of prescribed and wild land fire on soils, soil organic matter, forest nutrition, and the erosion of soil carbon from burned watersheds. He can comment on:

  • Fire effects on soil nutrients, moisture and temperature
  • Role of fire in soil organic matter stabilization and destabilization 
  • Response of tree productivity to fire
  • Role of fire in eroding and transporting carbon from watershed

Kevin Bladon, 541-737-5482, bladonk@oregonstate.edu

Bladon, an assistant professor in the OSU College of Forestry, studies the impacts of wildfire and post-fire land management on forest hydrology, water quality and aquatic ecosystem health. His areas of expertise include:

  • Effects of fire on streamflow
  • Effects of fire on water quality, including stream temperature, sediment and nutrients
  • Wildfire threats to community drinking water supply

Daniel Leavell, 541-883-7131 x8504, daniel.leavell@oregonstate.edu

Leavell is a forest agent stationed in Klamath Falls who holds a faculty appointment in the Department of Forest Engineering, Resources, and Management at Oregon State University. He can address media questions related to these topics:

  • Fire science
  • Fire ecology
  • Fire management
  • Fire prevention

Rachel Houtman, 541-737-4294, rachel.houtman@oregonstate.edu

Houtman is a research assistant in the Department of Forest Engineering, Resources, and Management at OSU studying the long-term implications of forest management actions and wildfire at the level of landscapes. She can comment on:

  • How actions today may shape our landscapes tomorrow, leading to resilient landscapes
  • The effect of fuel treatments and harvests on wildfire
  • Trade-offs between fire suppression costs and losses from fire
Media Contact: 

Sean Nealon, 541-737-0787, sean.nealon@oregonstate.edu

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

Oregon State receives high “Cool School” ranking from Sierra Club

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Sierra Club has released its “Cool Schools” rankings based on the ‘greenness’ of participating universities, and Oregon State has the highest green ranking of any public college in the state (private college Lewis & Clark came in 5th). Oregon State is listed as 20th in the nation.

The Cool Schools ranking is open to all four-year undergraduate colleges and universities in the nation. The award honors more than 200 colleges that are helping to solve climate problems and making significant efforts to integrate sustainability into their teaching, research and engagement and to operate sustainably. Evaluations were based on survey information provided by the participating schools. The raw data for scoring came from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) STARS self-reporting tool, plus a supplemental question about fossil fuel investments.

Brandon Trelstad, sustainability officer for Oregon State, said that the university’s continued commitment to sustainability has led to a number of honors from national organizations over the years.

“We continue to prioritize our work to reduce our carbon footprint. Things like conserving energy and recycling and repurposing materials to keep them out of the landfill help support carbon emission reductions and offer numerous co-benefits,” Trelstad said. “I continue to consider myself lucky to do sustainability work at Oregon State and in the Pacific Northwest. Being green is part of OSU’s ethos, we consider ourselves good stewards of the planet and being a ‘Cool School’ highlights this work.”

The Sierra Club noted innovative research at OSU, calling out assistant professor Chad Higgins’ research into the impact on soil moisture from ground mounted solar panels, and the benefits of growing food there. Higgins’ preliminary findings indicated a co-benefit for the panels as well – cooler temperatures, which means more electricity production from the panels.

“Based on my casual summertime observations at our six-acre solar array,” Trelstad said, “it didn’t surprise me that the ground under panels might be good for some food crops. But I was elated to learn that growing crops could also increase solar production. This is the kind of synergy we look for in sustainability work; systems thinking and looking for co-benefits across those systems.”

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

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Solar panels at OSU

Size matters, and so do temperature and habitat, to scavengers and the carcasses they eat

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Size matters in the carrion world, and so do habitat and temperature.

New research has shed fresh light on the largely understudied area of vertebrate scavenging ecology, particularly how biotic factors – living organisms – and abiotic ones such as heat or cold influence communities of scavengers.

The findings are important because carrion, the decaying flesh of dead animals, is a key nutrient for vertebrates worldwide and comparatively little is known about how all of the interplay works.

“A common perception is most things are depredated and eaten quickly, but in actuality, carrion is a highly available resource that’s contributing significantly to the food web,” said Erin Abernethy, a Ph.D. student in integrative biology in Oregon State University’s College of Science and second author on the study.

“There’s been a lot of research on how much carrion invertebrates eat, and they do eat a lot, and how the size of a carcass can tell you how much goes to vertebrates or invertebrates,” Abernethy said. “But there hasn’t been much on who among the vertebrate scavengers – coyotes, vultures, hogs, foxes, etc. – is getting what and how much, and how carcass size and habitat affect all of that. The nutrients from carcasses are reaching higher levels of the food web, and that knowledge is now getting fleshed out more.”

Working at the Savannah River Site, a 78,000-hectare coastal plain in South Carolina managed by the U.S. Department of Energy, researchers conducted scavenging trials across four habitat types: clearcut, mature hardwood forest, immature pine forest and mature pine forest.

They used carcasses of three different types and sizes – rat, rabbit and wild pig, representing small, medium and large. Scientists did trials both in a cool-weather time of year and in warm weather to measure changes in scavenger community dynamics as a result of seasonal differences in what microbes and invertebrates eat.

Hidden cameras captured “scavenging events” – an animal feeding on a carcass. Collectively, the photos – nearly 400,000 were analyzed – told a story of scavenger efficiency, scavenger species composition and carcass persistence as functions of carcass size, habitat type, and season.

“All of these photos, it’s kind of like spying on wildlife,” Abernethy said. “It’s a really nice way of communicating science, tickling people’s senses about a really integral part of the ecosystem.

“One of the most interesting aspects of this study was learning the sheer amount, the volume of carcasses, consumed by vertebrates.”

Animals with backbones partially or fully scavenged more than three-quarters of the carcasses, research showed.

“The results suggest vertebrate communities are efficient at locating varying sized carcasses, even in warmer months when invertebrate and microbial communities are most active, but not as efficiently as in cooler months when invertebrate and microbial activity isn’t as high,” Abernethy said. “We think carcass fate is ultimately determined by the scavenging community’s ability to find carrion as well as the availability of the carcass to vertebrate scavengers, both of which vary not only by season but also by habitat and carcass size.”

Abernethy said the study points out the importance of building multiple variables into carrion research.

“Not incorporating a range of carcass sizes, habitat types and air temperatures into scavenging studies can greatly diminish any potential derived insights into rates of carcass acquisition and community composition of scavengers,” she said.

The corresponding author is Kelsey Turner of the University of Georgia, and two other collaborators, Olin Rhodes Jr. and James Beasley, are from the University of Georgia as well. The research team also included L. Mike Conner of the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center in Newton, Ga.

Abernethy works in the lab of David Lytle, professor of integrative biology at OSU.

The U.S. Department of Energy supported this research. Findings were recently published in Ecology.

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Coyotes scavenging a pig carcass

OSU President: University remains committed to addressing climate change

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University President Edward J. Ray today reaffirmed the university’s unwavering commitment to address climate change.

Ray’s memo to faculty, staff and students was prompted by the Trump administration’s announcement last week that the United States will withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation.

“I want to assure the Oregon State University community that we remain steadfast in our resolve to advance our institution’s commitments toward the global challenge of climate change,” Ray wrote. “We are resolute in our work to reduce the institution’s carbon footprint; to pursue world-class research that improves knowledge and informs strategic actions; and to empower our students and communities through education and capacity building.”

Ten years ago – in April, 2007 – Ray signed what was then known as the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, now known as the Carbon Commitment. It set Oregon State on an ambitious path to reduce and ultimately eliminate the university’s planet-altering institutional carbon emissions. During the last decade, OSU has reduced its annual per-student carbon emissions 38 percent.

The university has no intention to reduce or defer its commitment to climate action; instead it must continue to invest to decrease emissions further, Ray wrote.

As a sun grant university, OSU is an international leader in research efforts to develop renewable and low-carbon sources of energy including wave, wind, nuclear and solar energy systems. For example, in December, OSU’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center was awarded up to $40 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to create the world’s premier wave energy test facility in Newport.

As the home of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute, OSU also participates in a network of more than 150 researchers throughout the state, including partners in state and federal agencies, who are working to address many climate issues, including ocean acidification, rising sea levels and changes in water availability and quality.

Ray concluded his memo with these words: “Let me assure you that we are unwavering in our commitment to address climate change, one of the world’s most pressing issues. We will continue to be a strong partner and collaborate with other universities, cities, states, and key federal entities. With our collective and continued resolve in these efforts, I am confident that Oregon State will continue to be a leader in climate change research and sustainability to provide a healthy planet for all of us.”

To read Ray's full statement visit: http://bit.ly/2r3DN5T

Media Contact: 

Sean Nealon, 541-737-0787, sean.nealon@oregonstate.edu

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Annie Heck, 541-737-0790, annie.heck@oregonstate.edu

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Edward J. Ray

OSU President Ed Ray

Study illuminates fate of marine carbon in last steps toward sequestration

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The ocean sequesters massive amounts of carbon in the form of “dissolved organic matter,” and new research explains how an ancient group of cells in the dark ocean wrings the last bit of energy from carbon molecules resistant to breakdown.

A look at genomes from SAR202 bacterioplankton found oxidative enzymes and other important families of enzymes that indicate SAR202 may facilitate the last stages of breakdown before the dissolved oxygen matter, or DOM, reaches a “refractory” state that fends off further decomposition.

Findings from the study by scientists at Oregon State University were recently published by the American Society for Microbiology. 

The ocean sequesters nearly as much carbon as exists in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2) and the new research into deep-water bacteria’s genomes sheds key new light on how the carbon storehouse operates.

Stephen Giovannoni, OSU distinguished professor of microbiology, said that near the ocean surface, the DOM carbon goes unconsumed because the cost of harvesting the resources is too high. Currents transport the “recalcitrant” forms of DOM that remain to the deep ocean, where they are slowly broken down to compounds that can persist for thousands of years.

Zach Landry, an OSU graduate student and first author of the study, named SAR202 “Monstromaria” from the Latin term for “sea monster.”

“They’re very abundant in the dark ocean where no photosynthesis is happening and planktonic cells are living off whatever rains down from surface,” Giovannoni said. “The big carbon cycle unknown is why so much carbon accumulates as organic matter in the ocean. In principle, micro-organisms could use it as chow to make energy and build biomass – and return CO2 to the atmosphere, which would be a disaster.

“At the surface, where there’s intense competition for nitrogen and phosphorus, and grazing by bigger plankton cells, Monstromaria's activities don’t pay out well enough for them to make a living,” Giovannoni said. “It’s so difficult to break down the resistant compounds that it’s not worth the cost. It’s like trying to make a living farming in an urban area – it isn’t going to work because the cost of living is too high.

”The resistant DOM carbon is like the last thing you’d want at a buffet, but the SAR202 consumes it in the deep ocean because it's all that is left.”

The research was done in Giovannoni’s lab by Landry, then a Ph.D. candidate at OSU and now a post-doctoral scholar, and collaborators at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, the National Biodefense Analysis and Countermeasures Center, the University of Vienna, and Utrecht University.

“Since SAR202 are ancient and today dominate in the dark ocean realm, we speculate their arrival in ancient oceans may have impacted the early carbon cycle,” Landry said.

Simons Foundation International, the National Science Foundation, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the European Research Council and the Austrian Science Fund supported this study.

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