OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

marine science and the coast

Salmon trucking success could open miles of historical spawning habitat

NEWPORT, Ore. – For the past several years, technicians have been trucking spring Chinook salmon above Foster Dam in Sweet Home to see if they would spawn, and if their offspring could survive the passage over the dam and subsequent ocean migration to eventually return as adults some 3-5 years later.

A new study examining the genetic origin of adult spring Chinook returning to Foster Dam offers definitive proof that the offspring survived, potentially opening up miles of spawning habitat on the upper South Santiam and other river systems.

Results of the study have been published in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences.

“With a little human assistance, it is now clear that we can restore natural production to areas above some dams and there is prime habitat on some river systems, such as the North Santiam above Detroit Dam,” said Kathleen O’Malley, an Oregon State University geneticist and principal investigator on the project. “This could really contribute to the long-term population viability in some river systems.”

Some past studies have explored whether salmon that spawned above dams could survive as juveniles going back through the dams, but this new study is one of the first to assess whether those fish successfully would return years later as adults.

Beginning in 2007, technicians from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers took genetic samples of adult salmon trucked above the dam. During the first two years, most of those adult salmon were reared in hatcheries and released as juveniles, but in 2009 they began using only wild-born fish, hoping to give a boost to that population. Since then, researchers have taken genetic samples from returning adult salmon to see if their parents were among those released above the dam.

The key is the “cohort replacement rate,” O’Malley said. If you release 100 female salmon above the dam, will you get at least 100 females from that population returning as adults to the dam for a rate of 1.0?  The researchers have to sample for several years to determine the success rate of one cohort, since spring Chinook can return as 3-, 4- or 5-year olds.

In 2007, ODFW released 385 hatchery-origin adult salmon and 18 wild-born salmon above Foster Dam, and the cohort replacement rate was .96. In 2008, 527 hatchery-origin fish and 163 wild-born fish were released, and the replacement rate was 1.16.

In 2009, the shift was made to all wild-born fish and ODFW released 434 spring Chinook above Foster Dam. When the researchers completed their genetic analysis for that year they found a cohort replacement rate of 1.56.

“It could be a one-year anomaly, or it may be an indication that wild-born fish are fitter and better able to survive and reproduce above the dams,” O’Malley said. “It is promising, though.”

Dams can limit downstream damage from potential floods, the researchers say, but there is little protection for spawning salmon above the dams. One flood occurred in 2010, and the researchers are just finishing their analysis of that year. Many of the spawning beds were wiped out, thus the cohort replacement rate likely will be lower. Although re-establishment of spawning activity above the dams has the potential to enhance productivity, those efforts are vulnerable to environmental processes.

“One limiting factor is that we don’t know for sure what an appropriate replacement rate is,” O’Malley pointed out. “We know that 1.0 is the bare minimum – one fish dies and another takes its place. But it won’t be clear what a good number will be to sustain and expand the population until we have several years of research.”

Researchers and fisheries managers note that ocean conditions play an important role in determining the number of adult salmon that survive to return and spawn, and can account for a significant amount of inter-annual variability in salmon abundance. It is important to have a population that is sufficiently productive across years in order to survive poor environmental conditions – in the ocean, or in fresh water – in any single given year.

ODFW also has released fish above dams on the North Santiam River and Fall Creek and OSU researchers are using genetics to monitor some of the first returning adults in these systems.

“One reason we think that the South Santiam reintroduction is going so well is that the reservoir is smaller and the dam is lower than in others systems in the Willamette basin,” O’Malley said. “The salmon’s downstream survival rate is likely higher than it may be on other river systems.”

The project is funded by the Army Corps of Engineers.

O’Malley is an associate professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at OSU, who is affiliated with the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

Other authors on the study include Melissa Evans and Dave Jacobson of Oregon State; Jinliang Wang of the Zoological Society of London; and Michael Hogansen and Marc Johnson of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Evans, the lead author, now works for the Fish and Wildlife Department of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes in Idaho.

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Kathleen O’Malley, 541-961-3311, kathleen.omalley@oregonstate.edu

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Aerial video of South Santiam: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zEb5l8lGtb8&

 

 

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Spring Chinook bypassing Foster Dam

 

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Foster Dam trapping operation

Hatfield Marine Science Center to host ocean research film fest

NEWPORT, Ore. – A mini-film festival outlining some of the latest in coastal research and marine initiatives will be held on Thursday, Sept. 22, at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

The series of short films will run from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and again from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Hennings Auditorium of the Visitor Center. The HMSC Film Festival is free and open to the public.

Among the topics in the films are:

  • Oregon State University’s Marine Studies Initiative;
  • Ocean sound in the bottom of the Mariana Trench, with NOAA’s Bob Dziak;
  • Blue whales nursing, with Leigh Torres of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute;
  • Ocean acidification, by OSU’s Justin Smith, with Caren Braby and Steven Rumrill of ODFW;
  • At sea larvae and plankton sampling with faculty and students from the Cowen/Sponaugle Lab at HMSC.

Also featured will be OSU’s Bill Chadwick, who will present a summary of a research expedition searching for new hydrothermal vents, and a time-lapse video of the R/V Thompson going through the locks into Lake Union in Seattle.

The university’s latest marine-themed commercial will also be shown.

“These films exemplify the Marine Studies Initiative recently launched by OSU, said Bob Cowen, director of the OSU center. “We are excited about the opportunity to share our cutting-edge research with a wide audience through these dynamic and impactful films.”

More information is available at the center’s event website, http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/events. Visitors traveling from the Willamette Valley should check on road closure information for U.S. Highway 20 at http://us20pme.org

 

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Maryann Bozza, 541-867-0234, maryann.bozza@oregonstate.edu

Subduction zone earthquakes off Oregon, Washington more frequent than previous estimates

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new analysis suggests that massive earthquakes on northern sections of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, affecting areas of the Pacific Northwest that are more heavily populated, are somewhat more frequent than has been believed in the past.

The chance of one occurring within the next 50 years is also slightly higher than previously estimated.

The findings, published this week in the journal Marine Geology, are based on data that is far more detailed and comprehensive than anything prior to this. It used measurements from 195 core samples containing submarine landslide deposits caused by subduction zone earthquakes, instead of only about a dozen such samples in past research.

The work was done by researchers from Oregon State University, Camosun College in British Columbia and Instituto Andaluz de Ciencias de la Tierra in Spain. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Geological Survey.

“These new results are based on much better data than has been available before, and reinforce our confidence in findings regarding the potential for major earthquakes on the Cascadia Subduction Zone,” said Chris Goldfinger, a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU, and one of the world’s leading experts on tectonic activity of this subduction zone.

“However, with more detailed data we have also changed somewhat our projections for the average recurrence interval of earthquakes on the subduction zone, especially the northern parts. The frequency, although not the intensity, of earthquakes there appears to be somewhat higher than we previously estimated.”

The Cascadia Subduction Zone runs from northern California to British Columbia, and scientists say it can be roughly divided into four segments. There have been 43 major earthquakes in the past 10,000 years on this subduction zone, sometimes on the entire zone at once and sometimes only on parts of it. When the entire zone is involved, it’s believed to be capable of producing a magnitude 9.1 earthquake.

It’s been known for some time, and still believed to be accurate, that the southern portions of the subduction zone south of Newport, Oregon, tend to rupture more frequently – an average of about every 300-380 years from Newport to Coos Bay, and 220-240 years from Coos Bay to Eureka, California.

The newest data, however, have changed the stakes for the northern sections of the zone, which could have implications for major population centers such as Portland, Tacoma, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

A section of the zone from Newport to Astoria, Oregon, was previously believed to rupture on average about every 400-500 years, and that average has now been reduced to 350 years. A section further north from Astoria to Vancouver Island was previously believed to rupture about every 500-530 years, and that average has now been reduced to 430 years.

The last major earthquake on the Cascadia Subduction Zone – pinpointed in time because it caused a tsunami that raced all the way across the Pacific Ocean to Japan – occurred in January, 1700, more than 315 years ago.

“What this work shows is that, contrary to some previous estimates, the two middle sections of the Cascadia Subduction Zone that affect most of Oregon have a frequency that’s more similar than different,” said Goldfinger, who directs the Active Tectonics and Seafloor Mapping Laboratory at OSU.

Based on these findings, the chances of an earthquake in the next 50 years have also been slightly revised upwards. Of the part of the zone off central and northern Oregon, the chance of an event during that period has been changed to 15-20 percent instead of 14-17 percent. On the furthest north section of the zone off Washington and British Columbia, the chance of an event has increased to 10-17 percent from 8-14 percent.

The study also increased the frequency of the most massive earthquakes, where the entire subduction zone ruptures at once. It had previously been believed this occurred about half the time. Now, the data suggest that several partial ruptures were more complete than previously thought, and that complete ruptures occur slightly more than half the time.

“Part of what’s important is that these findings give us more confidence about what’s coming in our future,” Goldfinger said.

“We believed these earthquakes were possible when the hypothesis was first developed in the late 1980s. Now we have a great deal more certainty that the general concern about earthquakes caused by the Cascadia Subduction Zone is scientifically valid, and we also have more precise information about the earthquake frequency and behavior of the subduction zone.”

Based in part on the growing certainty about these issues, OSU has developed the Cascadia Lifelines Program, an initiative working with Pacific Northwest business and industry to help prepare for the upcoming subduction zone earthquake, mitigate damage and save lives. Many other programs are also gaining speed.

The new measurements in this research were made with cores that showed the results of massive amounts of sediments released by subsea landslides during a subduction zone earthquake – a catastrophic event beneath the sea as well as on land. New technology is helping researchers to actually simulate these underwater landslides, better understand their behavior, and more accurately identify the “turbidite” or sediment layers they leave behind.

The large amounts of additional data, researchers say, has helped refine previous work, fill holes in the data coverage, and also to rule out other possible causes of some sediment deposits, such as major storms, random landslides or small local earthquakes.

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About the OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences: CEOAS is internationally recognized for its faculty, research and facilities, including state-of-the-art computing infrastructure to support earth/ocean/atmosphere observation and prediction. The college is a leader in the study of the Earth as an integrated system, providing scientific understanding to complex environmental challenges.

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Chris Goldfinger,541-737-9622

gold@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Oregon samples
Sampling sites

OSU announces location for new marine studies building in Newport

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University President Edward J. Ray announced today that a new $50 million center for global marine studies research and education will be built at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

The 100,000-square-foot facility is an integral part of OSU’s ambitious Marine Studies Initiative, designed to educate students and conduct research on marine-related issues - from rising sea levels and ocean acidification to sustainable fisheries and economic stability.

“Following broad consultation with numerous individuals and groups, as well as analysis of several separate reports, I have determined that the Hatfield Marine Science Center is the best site for Oregon State’s new Marine Studies Initiative building,” Ray said.

“Throughout the evaluation process, which included two upland sites, the safety of those who work, study and visit this building and HMSC during a potential catastrophic seismic event has been my overriding concern.”

Ray said that he believed the new facility can be built to sustain a 9.0 earthquake and an associated tsunami. He also concluded that the new building can provide a safe, accessible, vertical roof-top evacuation alternative for those who are injured, disabled or otherwise unable to reach the preferred evacuation site on nearby Safe Haven Hill.

“In my view, by locating this new building at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, life and safety prospects and services for employees, students and visitors will be much improved, relative to locating the marine studies building somewhere else,” Ray said. “The building might also serve as a safe destination for others who work at or visit nearby businesses or attractions, but who could not physically reach Safe Haven Hill.”

The new facility will be located adjacent to the Guin Library on the HMSC campus, which is just east of the Highway 101 bridge in Newport. The location places the facility in close proximity to critically important seawater laboratories and other HMSC research facilities. Although it is within the tsunami inundation zone, OSU officials say, detailed consideration went into the siting.

To assess the prospects of major catastrophic natural events, such as a Cascadia Subduction Zone event along the Oregon coast, Ray convened a committee of university academic, research and administrative leaders. They conducted comprehensive internal and independent third-party assessments of building this facility at the Hatfield Marine Science Center campus or at alternative, higher-ground sites in Newport.

Based on its comprehensive evaluation of the alternative sites, the committee recommended that the new building be constructed at the HMSC site. Meanwhile, OSU plans to build student housing on higher ground in Newport.

OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative has set a goal by 2025 to teach 500 students annually in Newport and expand marine studies research. Oregon State officials plan to open the building as early as 2018. The Oregon Legislature approved $24.8 million in state bonding last year to help fund the new building, which will become the centerpiece of OSU’s marine studies initiative. Meanwhile, the OSU Foundation is raising an additional $40 million in private funding for the Marine Studies Initiative – $25 million to match state funds for the new building and another $15 million to support related programs.

HMSC, which is run by Oregon State, is also shared by several agencies, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The multiple agencies, along with Hatfield’s saltwater research laboratories and ship operations, make it one of the most important marine science facilities in the country – and the combination provides unique opportunities for OSU students.

The Hatfield Marine Science Center celebrated its 50th anniversary in August 2015.

 

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Steve Clark, 541-737-3808

steve.clark@oregonstate.edu

OSU Press publishes book on Northwest dunes by George Poinar

CORVALLIS, Ore. – George Poinar Jr. has developed an international reputation for his discovery and analysis of a variety of organisms trapped in amber, but the Oregon State University scientist is also a storehouse of knowledge on another topic – sand dunes.

A new book by Poinar, “A Naturalist’s Guide to the Hidden World of Pacific Northwest Dunes,” outlines the unique habitat these features provide for plants, animals and insects from northern California to British Columbia.

The 288-page paperback has just been published by the Oregon State University Press. It is available at bookstores or can be ordered online at: http://osupress.oregonstate.edu

“George Poinar’s in-depth knowledge of this hidden world is unsurpassed – and his enthusiasm for it is infectious,” said Marty Brown, marketing manager for the OSU Press. “He has been investigating and photographing specimens along the Pacific Coast for more than four decades, and presents this trove of knowledge to the reader in a clear, engaging style.”

Nature lovers, beachcombers, naturalists and others will benefit from Poinar’s description of the oft-neglected world of Pacific Northwest sand dunes. He begins the book at the water’s edge, where kelp and seaweed communities foster an entire “web of life,” from the detritivores that feed on dead and decaying material to beach hoppers, kelp flies,  beach rove beetles and others.

Driftwood that washes ashore creates its own community, with detritivores including white worms, termites, a variety of beetles, borers and weevils. They are preyed upon by gulls, the American crow, numerous spider species and larger beetles.

Strand plant communities encompass the furthest reach of the tides – from the lowest minus tide to the high-water mark. Plants living there not only have to survive intermittent seawater, but offshore winds that “test the strength of their stems, leaves, and roots, grind abrasive sand particles against them, and occasionally bury them entirely,” Poinar writes.

Then there are the dune communities, where Poinar focuses much of his book. These regions of windblown sand have few nutrients, little available freshwater, and can be heated by the sun – even in Oregon – to 120 degrees, or cooled by a marine fog layer virtually any month of the year.

Yet despite these challenges, they harbor a vast array of plants and animals, from beach strawberries, grasses and the beautiful blooming beach pea, to deer, lizards, garter snakes,  ground squirrels and, of course, a host of insects.

Writes Poinar: “These ecosystems are the result of thousands of years of plate tectonics, glaciation, ocean currents, and wind and water erosion. While some organisms occur along the entire coastline, different physical and climatic conditions result in different biota occurring at various locations and during different seasons….

“While exploring this sandy realm, remember the ancient Indian proverb: ‘Treat the Earth well; it is not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children.’”

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Marty Brown, 541-737-3866, marty.brown@oregonstate.edu

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dunescover

Pacific Storm operations transferred to OSU college

NEWPORT, Ore. – Operations of the 85-foot-long Oregon State University research vessel Pacific Storm have been transferred from the Marine Mammal Institute at OSU to the university’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS).

The transfer will put the university’s three major research vessels under the same unit; CEOAS also operates the 177-foot R/V Oceanus and the 54-foot R/V Elakha.

The transfer will make the Pacific Storm available for year-round cruises – weather permitting – and improve access to the sea for OSU scientists, students and collaborators across the university, said Bruce Mate, director of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute.

“The Pacific Storm has been a great vessel for us, but it makes more sense logistically to operate all the vessels under a single unit,” Mate said. “We’ll continue to use the ‘Storm’ but this will allow many other researchers access to her.”

In the past decade, the R/V Pacific Storm has hosted 52 cruises, including one that culminated in the National Geographic documentary, “Kingdom of the Blue Whale,” which featured Mate’s research on the largest animals to have ever lived on Earth. The vessel has been used for a variety of whale research, as well as to deploy wave energy buoys, conduct seafloor mapping off the Oregon Coast, and deploy and recover undersea gliders.

The Pacific Storm originally was a commercial trawler that was donated to the OSU Marine Mammal Institute by Scotty and Janet Hockema, and refitted for research. The fish hold was converted into three bunk rooms, two toilets and a shower, and the vessel was outfitted with a research laboratory. Private donations paid for the refitting of the $1.5 million vessel.

The Pacific Storm will be housed and operated by OSU Ship Operations at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, said Stewart Lamerdin, OSU’s marine superintendent.

“As the university moves forward with its Marine Studies Initiative, there will be an increasing demand for access by students and scientists to research vessels,” Lamerdin said. “Managing all three vessels in a single operation will help OSU maximize their usage.”

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Bruce Mate, 541-867-0202, bruce.mate@oregonstate.edu;

Stewart Lamerdin, 541-867-0225, slamerdin@coas.oregonstate.edu

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This photo is available at: https://flic.kr/p/9VCUfV

Study finds native Olympia oysters more resilient to ocean acidification

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Native Olympia oysters, which once thrived along the Pacific Northwest coast until over-harvesting and habitat loss all but wiped them out, have a built-in resistance to ocean acidification during a key shell-building phase after spawning, according to a newly published study.

Unlike the commercially raised Pacific oysters, Olympia oysters don’t begin making their shells until 2-3 days after fertilization and make them far more slowly, which helps protect them from corrosive water during this critical development phase, said Oregon State University’s George Waldbusser, principal investigator on the project.

Pacific oysters, on the other hand, only have a six-hour window to develop their calcium carbonate shell, and when exposed to acidified water, their energy stores become depleted. The larval oysters may get through the shell-building stage, Waldbusser said, but they often will not have enough energy to survive.

Results of the study are being published this week in the Journal of Limnology and Oceanography.

“This is a unique trait that allows native oysters to survive surprisingly high levels of acidification,” said Waldbusser, a marine ecologist in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “But they didn’t develop that trait in response to rising acidification. It has been there for some time. It does make you wonder if there may be traits in other organisms that we’re unaware of that may be beneficial.”

In their study, which was funded by the National Science Foundation, the OSU researchers measured the calcification rates of both Olympia and Pacific oysters for five days after spawning, taking measurements every three hours. Although other studies have looked at the effects of acidified water on adult oysters, this is the first time researchers have been able to pinpoint its effect on larval oysters in the shell-building stage.

What they found was a seven-fold difference in the calcification rate. Pacific oysters put all of their energy into rapidly developing a shell, but the price of that investment is huge.

Native Olympia oysters developed their shells much more slowly, but seemingly at a lower cost.

“Pacific oysters churn out tens of millions of eggs, and those eggs are much smaller than those of native oysters even though they eventually become much larger as adults,” Waldbusser said. “Pacific oysters have less energy invested in each offspring. Olympia oysters have more of an initial energy investment from Mom, and can spend more time developing their shells and dealing with acidified water.”

The OSU researchers found that relative energy stores of young Pacific oysters declined by 38.6 percent an hour, and only 0.9 percent in Olympia oysters.

The study noted other interesting differences between Pacific and Olympia oysters. Native Olympia oyster larvae develop in a brood chamber, where the embryos take longer to develop. However, these brood chambers don’t necessarily protect the young oysters from acidified water, since water is continually pumped through the chamber.

To test how the oysters would do when raised like Pacific oysters – outside the chamber – the researchers conducted an experiment raising the larval Olympia oysters outside their brood chamber and exposing them to acidified water.

“Brooding was thought to provide several advantages to developing young, but we found it does not provide any physiological advantage to the larvae,” said Matthew Gray, a former doctoral student in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and now a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Maine. “They did just as well outside the brood chamber as inside.

“Brooding does help guard the larvae from predators and some adverse environmental changes – such as low-salinity events.”

The research highlights this robust response to ocean acidification at this critical life-history stage of Olympia oyster larvae, a period which has not previously been studied. Past studies conducted by Annaliese Hettinger, a post-doctoral researcher in Waldbusser’s lab, found that the Olympia oyster larvae are sensitive to acidification in the later swimming stage, and those effects can carry over to adult stages.

The current research may, however, have implications for the future of the commercial oyster industry, given that many of the problems seem to originate at this very early developmental stage. Cultivation of native oysters could help guard against catastrophic Pacific oyster losses due to acidification, the researchers say, or it may be possible to breed some of the Olympia oysters’ beneficial traits into Pacific oysters – either slowing the calcification rate of early larvae or producing fewer and bigger eggs.

The Olympia oyster, which is smaller than the commercially grown Pacific oyster, is prized for its distinctive flavor. Originally, Olympia oysters grew from Baja California to Vancouver Island, and are found sparingly in three Oregon bays – Yaquina, Netarts and Coos Bay. During the height of these harvests in the 1890s, some 130,000 bushels of oysters were annually shipped from the Pacific Northwest to California and within 20 years, 90 percent of these native oysters had disappeared.

Researchers speculate that the remaining Olympia oyster populations may have succumbed to increased silt generated by 20th-century logging and mill operations, which either killed them outright or covered their beds and destroyed their habitat. They have not returned in discernible numbers to Oregon estuaries.

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George Waldbusser, 541-737-8964

waldbuss@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Olympia oyster cluster

Olympia oysters



Olympia oysters
Olympia oysters
from Yaquina Bay

PNAS Study: Eddies enhance survival of coral reef fish in sub-tropical waters

NEWPORT, Ore. – Swirling eddies in the ocean have long been thought to be beneficial to organisms such as larval fishes residing within them because of enhanced phytoplankton production. However, direct evidence for this hypothesis has been hard to come by.

A new study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), which sequentially sampled tropical fish from their larval stages to their settlement in reefs, confirms the critical role of these oceanographic features.

Researchers found that young fish reared in nutrient-rich eddies in the Straits of Florida grew faster and had a survival advantage compared to their counterparts outside eddies, and were more likely to populate nearby reefs because of their more robust upbringing.

“Eddies upwell nutrients and provide a high-productivity environment that gives larval fishes growing there a head start on survival,” said Su Sponaugle, a marine biologist and principal investigator on the study who is affiliated with both Oregon State University and the University of Miami. “In cooler springtime waters, when larval fish are growing more slowly, the difference between fish raised inside or outside of eddies is small.

“But by August, when warm waters elevate fish growth rates, food becomes scarce and larval fishes residing inside eddies are more likely to survive.”

The study is important because it provides resource managers and fish population modelers with valuable new data, said Robert Cowen, director of Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, and a co-author on the PNAS paper.

“If there are areas where eddies predictably occur, these could be considered pelagic nursery areas that would warrant higher levels of protection from human interference,” Cowen said. “Further, the role of theses eddies should be incorporated into modeling efforts, which inform decision-makers. The influence of eddies may become even more important with warming oceans.”

In their study, the researchers collected larval fishes both inside and outside of eddies, focusing on three species – bluehead wrasse (Thalassoma bifasciatum), bluelip parrotfish (Cryptotomus roseus) and bicolor damselfish (Stegastes partitus). They determined the daily growth rates of the fish through examination of their otoliths, or ear stones, and found that those raised within the eddies had substantially higher growth rates than fish captured outside the eddies.

A few weeks later, they sampled young juveniles that had settled to nearby reefs and again using otoliths to chart daily growth rates of the fish were able to determine that almost all of those that survived to the juvenile stage had growth patterns similar to larvae from eddies.

Fish raised inside of eddies have different growth signatures in their otoliths than those raised outside eddies, explained Kathryn Shulzitski, lead author and assistant scientist at the University of Miami. “This is the first time we have been able to sample fish throughout their larval upbringing offshore to their life as juveniles on the reef and see which fish had a survival advantage.

“It was overwhelmingly slanted toward eddy-raised fish.”

The researchers theorize that larval fish residing outside of eddies either starve to death or become sufficiently weak that they are more susceptible to predators.

“Although we were focusing on three species of smaller reef fish, it is likely that the importance of eddies for larger species – including those sought by people for food – are the same,” Cowen said. “Likewise, this probably is not unique to the Florida Straits. Eddies are ubiquitous in waters around the globe and their role in mixing and stirring up nutrients is critical.”

Other authors on the PNAS study include Martha Hauff and Kristen Walter of the University of Miami. Hauff also is affiliated with Stonehill College in Massachusetts.

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Su Sponaugle, 541-867-0314, su.sponaugle@oregonstate.edu;

Bob Cowen, 541-867-0211, robert.cowen@oregonstate.edu

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Bluehead wrasse (Photo by Evan D’Alessandro)
bluehead wrasse

Hydrothermal vents, methane seeps play enormous role in marine life, global climate

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The hydrothermal vents and methane seeps on the ocean floor that were once thought to be geologic and biological oddities are now emerging as a major force in ocean ecosystems, marine life and global climate.

However, even as researchers learn more about their role in sustaining a healthy Earth, these habitats are being threatened by a wide range of human activities, including deep-sea mining, bottom trawling and energy harvesting, scientists say in a report published in Frontiers in Marine Science.

Researchers from Oregon State University first discovered these strange, isolated worlds on the ocean bottom 40 years ago. These habitats surprised the scientific world with reports of hot oozing gases, sulfide chimneys, bizarre tube worms and giant crabs and mussels – life forms that were later found to eat methane and toxic sulfide.

“It was immediately apparent that these hydrothermal vents were incredibly cool,” said Andrew Thurber, an assistant professor in the OSU College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, and co-author on the new report.

“Since then we’ve learned that these vents and seeps are much more than just some weird fauna, unique biology and strange little ecosystems. Rather than being an anomaly, they are prevalent around the world, both in the deep ocean and shallower areas. They provide an estimated 13 percent of the energy entering the deep sea, make a wide range of marine life possible, and are major players in global climate.”

As fountains of marine life, the vents pour out gases and minerals, including sulfide, methane, hydrogen and iron – one of the limiting nutrients in the growth of plankton in large areas of the ocean. In an even more important role, the life forms in these vents and seeps consume 90 percent of the released methane and keep it from entering the atmosphere, where as a greenhouse gas it’s 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“We had no idea at first how important this ecological process was to global climate,” Thurber said. “Through methane consumption, these life forms are literally saving the planet. There is more methane on the ocean floor than there are other forms of fossil fuels left in the oceans, and if it were all released it would be a doomsday climatic event.”

In reviewing the status of these marine geological structures and the life that lives around them, a group of researchers from 14 international universities and organizations have outlined what’s been learned in the past four decades and what forces threaten these ecosystems today. The synthesis was supported by the J.M. Kaplan fund.

These vents and seeps, and the marine life that lives there, create rocks and habitat, which in some settings can last tens of thousands of years. They release heat and energy, and form biological hot spots of diversity. They host extensive mussel and clam beds, mounds of shrimp and crab, create some prime fishing habitat and literally fertilize the ocean as zooplankton biomass and abundance increases. While the fluid flows from only a small section of the seafloor, the impact on the ocean is global.

Some of the microorganisms found at these sites are being explored for their potential to help degrade oil spills, or act as a biocatalytic agent for industrial scrubbing of carbon dioxide.

These systems, however, have already been damaged by human exploitation, and others are being targeted, the scientists said. Efforts are beginning to mine them for copper, zinc, lead, gold and silver. Bottom trawling is a special concern, causing physical disturbance that could interfere with seeps, affect habitat and damage other biologic linkages.

Oil, gas or hydrate exploitation may damage seeps. Whaling and logging may interfere with organic matter falling to the ocean floor, which serves as habitat or stepping stones for species reliant on chemosynthetic energy sources. Waste disposal of munitions, sewage and debris may affect seeps.

The range of ecosystem services these vents and seeps provide is just barely beginning to be understood, researchers said in their report. As many of these habitats fall outside of territorial waters, vent and seep conservation will require international collaboration and cooperation if they are going to continue to provide ecosystem benefits.

Contributors to this report included researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Florida State University, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research in New Zealand, University of the Azores, Temple University, Universidade de Aveiro, the U.S. Geological Survey, University of the West Indies, Dalhousie University, University of Victoria, Duke University, Ghent University and the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

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Editor’s note: Downloadable high resolution video; online “view only” video; live streamed video; and still photos are all available to illustrate this story. Please credit "Courtesy of D. Kelley, University of Washington, NSF/Ocean Observatories Initiative/Canadian Scientific Submersible Facility."

  • Video: Downloadable hydrothermal vents b-roll (Length 1:50)

https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_nEpHVYyPtpM2F4bWxiY1dXeEU&usp=sharing

  • Video: Online view only hydrothermal vents b-roll (Length 1:50)

http://www.interactiveoceans.washington.edu/file/Inferno_Vent_at_Axial

  • Video: Live HD imagery streamed to shore 8 times/day. Every 3 hours, day and night, on this site you can watch live streaming video from about a mile below the oceans' surface, on the top of a submarine volcano known as Axial Seamount. Axial is located nearly 400 kilometers (~250 miles) due west of Astoria, Oregon on a mid-ocean ridge spreading center called the Juan de Fuca Ridge.  http://novae.ocean.washington.edu/story/Ashes_CAMHD_Live 
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Andrew Thurber, 541-737-4500

athurber@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Tube worms
Tube worms

Sea star juveniles abundant, but recovery is anything but guaranteed

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An unprecedented number of juvenile sea stars have been observed off the Oregon coast over the past several months – just two years after one of the most severe marine ecosystem epidemics in recorded history nearly wiped the population out.

The appearance of the juveniles does not mean the threat of “sea star wasting disease” is over, researchers caution. A second round of the disease could be disastrous to the purple ochre (Pisaster ochraceus) and other sea stars, some of which are considered “keystone” species in marine habitats because of their influence on the ecosystem.

A team of Oregon State University scientists who have been monitoring the sea stars for years reported on their status this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

“When we looked at the settlement of the larval sea stars on rocks in 2014 during the epidemic, it was the same or maybe even a bit lower than previous years,” said Bruce Menge, the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology at Oregon State University and lead author on the study. “But a few months later, the number of juveniles was off the charts – higher than we’d ever seen – as much as 300 times normal.”

“It wasn’t a case of high settlement, or more sea stars being born. They just had an extraordinary survival rate into the juvenile stage. Whether they can make it into adulthood and replenish the population without succumbing to sea star wasting disease is the big question.”

Menge and his colleagues believe the reason for the high survival rate is the availability of more food. The young sea stars feed on larval and juvenile mussels and barnacles, competing with adult sea stars for the same food source. The scarcity of adults provided a temporary smorgasbord for the juveniles.

Sea star wasting disease first appeared in Oregon in the summer of 2014. In rocky intertidal habitats, disease rapidly depleted populations of the dominant sea star, Pisaster ochraceus. The sea stars first developed twisted arms, then showed deflation and lesions, and eventually lost arms and the ability to grip onto the substrate before finally disintegrating completely.

Over a period of about 15 months, the disease reduced the overall sea star population by 63 to 84 percent at different site along the Oregon coast, and reduced the Pisaster ochraceus population by 80 to 99 percent. The epidemic ranged from Alaska to Baja California.

Scientists from Cornell University attributed the epidemic to a Sea Star-associated Densovirus and researchers in Washington say warmer water may have provided the trigger for the disease in that state.

But Menge’s research group found no association between water temperature and the disease outbreak in Oregon.

“The sea temperatures were warmer when the outbreak first began,” he said, “but Oregon wasn’t affected as early as other parts of the West Coast, and the outbreak reached its peak here when the sea temperature plummeted and was actually cooler than normal.”

The Cornell researchers found evidence of densovirus in the sea stars, the water column and in sediments. It occurs naturally and can become virulent, possibly as a result of stress.

“Something triggered that virulence and it happened on a coast-wide basis,” said Menge, a distinguished professor in the Department of Integrative Biology in OSU’s College of Science. “We don’t think it was a result of warming because conditions were different in Oregon than they were, for example, in Washington and likely other parts of the West Coast. Ocean acidification is one possibility and we’re looking at that now. Ultimately, the cause seems likely to be multi-faceted.”

Menge and his research team have been studying these intertidal rocky zones at different sites for as long as 32 years and analyzing the community structure. Historical research has shown that the ochre star is a “keystone” species because of its influence in these ecosystems, suggesting that the absence of so many adults could have a significant impact.

Ochre sea stars prey on barnacles and mussels and keep their populations under control. When left unchecked, mussel populations can explode, covering up algae and small invertebrates.

“The longer-term ecological consequences of this (disease) event could include wholesale elimination of many low zone species and a complete change in the zonation patterns of rocky intertidal communities along the West Coast of North America,” the authors wrote in their study.

Among the other findings the OSU researchers reported in PLOS One:

  • Sea stars that were continuously submerged, such as those in tidepools, had a higher rate of the disease than sea stars on rocks outside of tidepools where periodically they were above water;
  • During the last two years, the number of gooseneck barnacles has exploded along the coast – likely because they are not being preyed upon as heavily by adult sea stars;
  • Adult sea stars are much more likely to be affected by sea star wasting disease than juveniles, which may be because of longer exposure or some other factor.

The OSU research has been funded by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Kingfisher Foundation, and the Wayne and Gladys Valley Foundation.

Other authors on the study, all from OSU, include Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman, Angela Johnson, Jenna Sullivan, Sarah Gravem and Francis Chan.

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Bruce Menge, 541-737-5358, mengeb@oregonstate.edu

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This photograph of a disintegrating adult purple sea star, Pisaster ochraceus, is available at: https://flic.kr/p/nzd81S