OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

Swiss needle cast disease intensifies in the Oregon Coast Range

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Over the last decade, a fungal disease known as Swiss needle cast has intensified within the Douglas-fir forests of the Oregon Coast Range, according to the most recent scientific surveys.

Results from aerial analyses in 2015 indicate a slight expansion, 0.6 percent, in the affected area over 2014, but it remains the most significant threat to Douglas-fir plantations in western Oregon, says David Shaw, Oregon State University forest health specialist in the College of Forestry. Shaw is director of the Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative at Oregon State, which leads efforts to understand the disease and determine how best to manage it.

Symptoms of the disease, which is native to the Northwest, have spread as much as 30 percent in one year. Caused by a fungus that reduces the growth of Douglas-fir trees, it now affects over 590,000 acres of trees in Oregon, an area more than four times larger than what was found when surveying began in 1996. The annual economic loss has been estimated at $128 million.

The fungus, Phaeocryptopus gaeumannii, doesn’t kill trees outright, but the annual growth of the most infected stands can be reduced up to 50 percent. Application of fungicides is generally not recommended. Where the disease is severe, researchers suggest planting species other than Douglas fir, such as western hemlock, western redcedar and Sitka spruce.

Scientists have reported the results in Forests, a professional journal, of two decades of aerial surveys conducted by the Oregon Department of Forestry. Researchers in the U.S. Forest Service and the Weyerhaeuser Corporation co-authored the report.

“Sustained growth losses over the previous 20 years have resulted in millions of dollars in lost timber and tax revenues,” said Gabriela Ritokova, lead author and assistant director of the Swiss Needle Cooperative. “In many cases, mid-rotation stands in the hardest hit areas have remained in an unproductive state, with managers hoping for a reprieve in disease levels.”

The pathogen disperses as tiny spores that land on Douglas-fir needles and plug needle openings that normally carry air and water into and out of the tree. Like a clogged drain, the needle loses the ability to function. Infected trees can be visually identified from the air because, in the spring, they turn slightly yellow in contrast to the deep green of healthy trees. While unaffected Douglas-fir trees often retain needles for three years or more, needles on infected trees may fall off in two years or less.

Standard forest management practices neither increase nor decrease the severity of the disease, researchers said.

“The start of the epidemic is thought to be partially the result of planting Douglas-fir that originated from seed sources outside the area being planted,” said Ritokova, who is also a faculty research assistant at Oregon State.

“The correlation between disease severity and climate factors, such as spring moisture and warm winter temperatures, raises the question of a link between disease expansion and climate change. Those factors, in combination with lots of Douglas fir and with large springtime fungal spore production, have us where we are now.”

In addition to conducting aerial flights over the Coast Range, Ritokova and her colleagues have been monitoring fungus infection in 10- to 23-year-old Douglas-fir trees in the western Cascades. Samples from 590 trees analyzed in 2001, 2006 and 2011 show that Swiss needle cast is present but, with few exceptions, is of limited concern.

Swiss needle cast was first discovered among Douglas-fir trees planted in Switzerland in the early 20th century.

The research was carried out by the Swiss Needle Cast Cooperative, a consortium of OSU, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Oregon Department of Forestry, Stimson Lumber, Starker Forests, Cascade Timber Consultants and Weyerhaeuser Corporation. The cooperative recently completed installation of a research and monitoring plot network across western Oregon and southwest Washington to enable scientists to study disease abundance, growth impacts and climate.

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Gabriela Ritokova, 541-737-3826, gabriela.ritokova@oregonstate.edu; Dave Shaw, 541-737-2845, dave.shaw@oregonstate.edu

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Swiss needle cast

Swiss needle cast

Swiss needle cast symptoms from the air, near Tillamook photo Rob Flowers ODF

FirNeedle

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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Lack of pharmacy access sends some patients back to the hospital

PORTLAND, Ore. – Hospital readmissions, a $17 billion annual problem, are higher in rural, remote or smaller communities that sometimes have significantly less access to pharmacies, according to a study published today that was one of the first to examine this issue.

Researchers at Oregon State University and Oregon Health & Science University found that the average number of readmissions from rural areas was 15.3 percent, compared to 14.7 percent for their urban counterparts where the days and hours a person could find an open pharmacy were much higher.

Unplanned hospital readmissions are such a serious national problem that recent changes in federal law are penalizing hospitals that have high readmission rates. It can be a problem with various groups: older adults; people who have several medical conditions; those taking multiple medications; and people who have difficulty adhering to their medication regimen.

The study was done in Oregon with census data of patients over 65, studying 507 pharmacies and 58 hospitals. It was supported by the OHSU Layton Alzheimer Disease Center, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“It’s a huge burden both on a patient and our medical system when they have to be readmitted to a hospital,” said David Lee, an assistant professor in the OSU/OHSU College of Pharmacy, and senior author on a new study in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association.

“The modern pharmaceutical profession is increasingly being recognized as an important partner in health care, and as its services continue to expand it will help even more. This research shows that pharmacy access can help people from going back to the hospital. For older populations who often find hospital experiences quite exhausting, that’s extremely important to their overall health.

“The sooner a person gets out and stays out of a hospital, the better off they usually will be.”

In some rural areas of Oregon, Lee noted, a person might have to drive 100 miles or more to find a pharmacy. In one of Oregon’s rural communities there is a single pharmacy that’s open 54 hours a week; by comparison, in some major urban areas a person might be able to find multiple pharmacies that collectively are open more than 3,800 hours a week.

These challenges of availability, distance and convenience to professional pharmaceutical products, service and counsel are a problem, researchers said. Another interesting corollary to the issue, they said, is identification of what have been called “pharmacy deserts” even within major urban areas, such as Chicago.

“Large, urban, predominantly white communities usually have a lot of pharmacies and access,” said Sarah Bissonnette, lead author on this study and an OSU postdoctoral fellow. “But in some lower socioeconomic areas even within cities, it’s much more difficult to find an open pharmacy.”

If more conventional pharmacies are not economically viable, the researchers said, a possible remedy to the problem is growth and improvement of what’s called “telepharmacy,” or mail-order services that are carefully backed up by personal advice, monitoring and counsel from professional pharmacists.

Improved hospital discharge medication counseling has been shown to increase adherence to use of new or changed medications, the study indicated. And some hospitals around the country have also taken it upon themselves to open community and 24-hour pharmacies in an attempt to reduce readmission rates.

Nonadherence to medication usage ranges from 25-50 percent in the United States, depending on the disease state, and is associated with increased illness and death, the study noted.  Causes can include adverse side effects, insurance coverage, costs, education levels, cognition and pharmacy access.

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David Lee, 503-494-2258

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Pharmacist consult
Pharmacist consult

Teens who smoke daily are more likely to report health complaints

CORVALLIS, Ore. – As fewer teens overall take up smoking, those who do smoke daily are reporting more health complaints than in years past, a new study indicates.

“Teens who smoke report significantly higher levels of health complaints than nonsmoking teens, and we found that this gap has widened over the years, even as the overall prevalence of teen smoking has dropped,” said Marc Braverman a professor, lead author and Extension specialist in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, who worked with collaborators in Norway.

“Some adolescents smoke as an attempt to cope with their health problems, and that subgroup may represent a growing proportion of teen smokers, as fewer teenagers are taking up smoking for social reasons.”

The researchers believe it is the first time that this shifting relationship between daily smoking and health complaints in adolescence has been reported. The results were published recently in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research.

Smoking is on the decline among adults and adolescents in most places around the world, which is very welcome news, said Braverman, whose research expertise includes smoking prevention and tobacco control policy.

But as smoking rates decline, reducing them further becomes more challenging. Some tobacco researchers believe that the remaining smokers tend to be more “hard-core” smokers, who have been smoking for long periods and either do not wish to quit or believe they would not be successful if they tried, he said.

“Many public health officials are asking what kinds of new strategies might be needed to reduce smoking prevalence, to say, the low single digits, and what kinds of resources that might require,” Braverman said.  “Some smokers are more addicted to or dependent on cigarettes than others.”

Understanding the links between health and smoking among teens will help public health officials determine better smoking cessation strategies for that age group, particularly those who smoke on a daily basis, Braverman said.

For the study, researchers used data from the Health Behavior in School-Aged Children Study, an international collaborative project sponsored by the World Health Organization that began in the 1980s and currently includes 43 countries. Surveys of 11-, 13- and 15-year-olds are conducted every four years in participating countries.

The researchers examined smoking behavior and health problems among 15-year-olds in Norway over five waves of the survey, from 1993-94 to 2009-10. They focused on Norway in part because that country experienced dramatic declines in smoking rates over that time period, which allows for investigation of how smoking populations have changed, Braverman said.

As part of the survey, the students were asked about their smoking behavior and how often they experienced subjective physical and psychological health complaints such as headache, stomachache, backache, dizziness, irritability, nervousness, feeling “low” and sleep difficulties.

In addition to the changes in health complaints over time, the researchers found important differences in health complaints related to gender. Girls, in general, reported more health complaints than boys, but the difference between the sexes was significantly larger among smoking teens than nonsmoking teens. In particular, girls who smoked daily reported higher levels of health complaints than any other subgroup, Braverman said.

The data collected did not allow for an explanation of the reason for the finding, but the study raises concerns that adolescent girls might be at especially high risk for health problems associated with smoking, he said.

If teens are smoking as a coping mechanism for physical or psychological problems, they may be at greater risk for dependence and addiction than their peers who are smoking because of peer or social influences, Braverman said.

“And for those teens who smoke to cope with health problems, getting them to stop will likely require different strategies and more intensive intervention efforts than those that are commonly used,” Braverman said. “A ‘stop smoking’ media campaign probably won’t be enough.”

Co-authors of the study include Robert Stawski of OSU; Oddrun Samdal of the University of Bergen;    and Leif Edvard Aarø  of the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Braverman’s work on the study was funded in part by a grant from the OSU Division of International Programs.

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Marc Braverman, 541-737-1021

marc.braverman@oregonstate.edu

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Marc Braverman
Marc Braverman

OSU researchers fix calculation error in study on fracking and human health

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A 2015 Oregon State University study that linked natural-gas fracking to increased air pollution and heightened health risks has been corrected by its authors.

The corrected article still concludes that natural gas extraction contributes polluting chemicals known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to the air, but at levels that would not be expected to increase lifetime cancer risk above the EPA threshold.

The researchers measured levels of airborne PAHs near several Ohio hydraulic-fracturing sites in 2014. PAHs have been linked to increased risk of cancer and respiratory diseases.

In their March 2015 article, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, the researchers reported that PAH pollution from fracking could put a person living in the study area at a greater than a one-in-a-million risk of developing cancer during his or her life. One in a million is the threshold set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for unacceptable cancer risk.

The authors retracted the article on June 29, 2016, after they found an error in a complicated spreadsheet used to calculate the concentrations of various PAH chemicals in the air.

The researchers redid the calculations and submitted a corrected version of the article, which was published on July 11, 2016. It finds that the estimated risk for the maximum exposure to fracking-related PAH pollution in the study area is 0.04 in a million—well below the EPA’s threshold.

Steve Clark, OSU’s vice president for university relations, said the mistake came to light as the researchers were crunching numbers from a current project. In the process, he said, they discovered a similar calculation error in a 2014 study of PAH pollution of air and water during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which also was published in Environmental Science and Technology.

That article too was retracted on June 29, and the corrected article was published online on July 8.

“In both cases the researchers were using a complicated, multi-linked spreadsheet to analyze large quantities of data,” said Clark. “The error was an honest mistake that unfortunately slipped through the peer-review process. Our researchers knew they couldn’t let it stand, so they stepped forward and corrected the error.”  

The coauthors of the Ohio fracking study include OSU researchers Kim Anderson (College of Agricultural Sciences) and Laurel Kincl (College of Public Health and Human Sciences), and Erin Haynes of the University of Cincinnati. Anderson also coauthored the Deepwater Horizon study.

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Terrifed insect escapes a permanent tomb – 50 million years ago

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Thousands of insects, plants and other life forms have been found trapped in ancient amber deposits, but a new discovery shows a rarity of a different type – the one that got away.

In a piece of Baltic amber about 50 million years old, research has uncovered an exoskeleton similar to that of a modern-day “walking stick” – evidence of an insect that literally was frightened out of its skin, and made its way to freedom just as it was about to become forever entombed by oozing tree sap.

The unusual piece also reveals the first mushroom that’s ever been found in Baltic amber, along with a mammalian hair that was left behind. In its entirety, the amber piece offers a little docudrama of life, fear and hasty escape in the ecology of an ancient subtropical forest.

The findings were just published in Fungal Biology by George Poinar, Jr., a researcher in in the College of Science at Oregon State University and an international expert in ancient life forms found in amber.

“From what we can see in this fossil, a tiny mushroom was bitten off, probably by a rodent, at the base of a tree,” Poinar said. “An insect, similar to a walking stick, was probably also trying to feed on the mushroom. It appears to have immediately jumped out of its skin and escaped, just as tree sap flowed over the remaining exoskeleton and a hair left behind by the fleeing rodent.”

Plants, insects and other material found in amber deposits, Poinar said, always offer details about ancient ecosystems. But on rare occasions such as this, they also show the interactions and ecology between different life forms. They are invaluable in helping scientists to reconstruct the nature of ecosystems in the distant past.

In this case, the amber came from near the Baltic Sea in what’s now Germany, Poland, Russia and Scandinavia. It was formed, beginning as a viscous tree sap, in a large subtropical coniferous forest across much of northern Europe that lasted about 10 million years.

In a climate much warmer than exists there today, the early angiosperms, or flowering plants, were starting to displace the gymnosperms, or cone-bearing evergreens that had previously been dominant. Dinosaurs had gone extinct a few million years before, and mammals were beginning to diversify.

“The tiny insect in this fossil was a phasmid, one of the kinds of insects that uses its shape to resemble sticks or leaves as a type of camouflage,” Poinar said.

“It would have shed its skin repeatedly before reaching adulthood, in a short lifespan of a couple months. In this case, the ability to quickly get out of its skin, along with being smart enough to see a problem coming, saved its life.”

The exoskeleton seen in the amber is extremely fresh and shows filaments that would have disappeared if it had been shed very long before being covered by amber, Poinar said.

This particular insect species is now extinct, as is the mushroom in the fossil, Poinar said. Although mushrooms have been found in fossils from other regions of the world, this is the first specimen to be identified in Baltic amber, and represents both a new genus and species.

The Baltic amber deposits are the largest in the world, have been famous for thousands of years and continue to be mined today. Amber from the mines were traded by Roman caravans, later taken over by Teutonic knights and are known around the world for the huge volume of semi-precious stones they produce.

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George Poinar, Jr.

poinarg@science.oregonstate.edu

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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

New technology could improve use of small-scale hydropower in developing nations

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Engineers at Oregon State University have created a new computer modeling package that people anywhere in the world could use to assess the potential of a stream for small-scale, “run of river” hydropower, an option to produce electricity that’s of special importance in the developing world.

The system is easy to use; does not require data that is often unavailable in foreign countries or remote locations; and can consider hydropower potential not only now, but in the future as projected changes in climate and stream runoff occur.

OSU experts say that people, agencies or communities interested in the potential for small-scale hydropower development can much more easily and accurately assess whether it would meet their current and future energy needs.

Findings on the new assessment tool have been published in Renewable Energy, in work supported by the National Science Foundation.

“These types of run-of-river hydropower developments have a special value in some remote, mountainous regions where electricity is often scarce or unavailable,” said Kendra Sharp, the Richard and Gretchen Evans Professor in Humanitarian Engineering in the OSU College of Engineering.

“There are parts of northern Pakistan, for instance, where about half of rural homes don’t have access to electricity, and systems such as this are one of the few affordable ways to produce it. The strength of this system is that it will be simple for people to use, and it’s pretty accurate even though it can work with limited data on the ground.”

The new technology was field-tested at a 5-megawatt small-scale hydropower facility built in the early 1980s on Falls Creek in the central Oregon Cascade Range. At that site, it projected that future climate changes will shift its optimal electricity production from spring to winter and that annual hydropower potential will slightly decrease from the conditions that prevailed from 1980-2010.

Small-scale hydropower, researchers say, continues to be popular because it can be developed with fairly basic and cost-competitive technology, and does not require large dams or reservoirs to function. Although all forms of power have some environmental effects, this approach has less impact on fisheries or stream ecosystems than major hydroelectric dams. Hydroelectric power is also renewable and does not contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.

One of the most basic approaches is diverting part of a stream into a holding basin, which contains a self-cleaning screen that prevents larger debris, insects, fish and objects from entering the system. The diverted water is then channeled to and fed through a turbine at a lower elevation before returning the water to the stream.

The technology is influenced by the seasonal variability of stream flow, the “head height,” or distance the water is able to drop, and other factors. Proper regulations to maintain minimum needed stream flow can help mitigate environmental impacts.

Most previous tools used to assess specific sites for their small-scale hydropower potential have not been able to consider the impacts of future changes in weather and climate, OSU researchers said, and are far too dependent on data that is often unavailable in developing nations.

This free, open source software program was developed by Thomas Mosier, who at the time was a graduate student at OSU, in collaboration with Sharp and David Hill, an OSU associate professor of coastal and ocean engineering. It is now available to anyone on request by contacting Kendra.sharp@oregonstate.edu

This system will allow engineers and policy makers to make better decisions about hydropower development and investment, both in the United States and around the world, OSU researchers said in the study.

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Kendra Sharp, 541-737-5246

kendra.sharp@oregonstate.edu

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Small scale hydropower
Small scale hydropower

Oil and gas infrastructure doesn’t seem to deter nesting hawks

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Roads and petroleum wells in Wyoming’s oil and gas country don’t seem to interfere with the nesting of ferruginous hawks, according to recent findings by Oregon State University wildlife researchers.

In their three-year study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, wildlife biologists Zach Wallace and Patricia Kennedy found that the birds were equally likely to return to nests near energy infrastructure, such as roads and well pads, as to those farther away.

The birds’ nesting choices proved to be influenced more by abundance of prey animals such as ground squirrels, and by relatively sparse sagebrush cover, than by structures associated with oil and gas fields, the researchers concluded.

The study, conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service and Wyoming Department of Game and Fish, is the largest in the U.S. so far on the impacts of oil and gas development on the federally protected hawks, which are regarded as a “species of conservation concern” by some federal and state agencies.

But it’s too early, Wallace cautioned, to assume that oil and gas activities are benign.

“We don’t have pre-construction data,” he said, “so we were studying birds that had continued to nest after energy exploration began. It is possible that some hawks may already have abandoned the areas of densest development prior to our study.”

Kennedy said the long-term effect of energy development on abundance of prey is unknown.

“We know from the literature that ferruginous hawks can nest in working landscapes,” she said. “But we present our findings with some caution, because we don’t know what the thresholds are,” for habitat changes that will harm the birds’ reproductive success.

“Some prey species seem to thrive under disturbances from oil and gas development; others may not.”

Kennedy is a professor in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences stationed at the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Center in Union, Ore. Wallace led the study as Kennedy’s master’s student and now works for Eagle Environmental, a conservation consulting firm in New Mexico.

The ferruginous hawk (Buteo regalis) is the largest hawk species in North America. The birds are partially migratory, wintering as far south as central Mexico and returning north in the spring to breeding territories in the arid shrub- and grasslands of the western U.S.

The hawks nest in trees and rocky outcrops, returning to prior years’ nests if these are available. They also nest readily on human-made structures such as artificial nesting platforms, power poles, abandoned windmills, even gas condensation tanks. They will nest on the ground if elevated structures are not present, Kennedy said.

Birds that inhabit grasslands and shrublands are declining around the world primarily because of human-caused disturbances, Wallace said. He and Kennedy undertook the study to determine which of several key influences were most important in the hawks’ reuse of breeding territories and nesting success: abundance of prey, shrub cover, weather, type of nest substrate, and density of human structures such as roads and well pads.

The researchers counted hawk nests from a small airplane over three seasons, and they sampled prey species on the ground. Their study area covered nearly half the state of Wyoming and included both public and private land.

They divided the sampling territory into areas with low, medium and high density of oil and gas infrastructure. After the initial nest count, they monitored the nests during spring breeding season over the next two years to see whether the birds returned to prior years’ nests and how many young they produced.

Based on earlier research, they expected that returning birds would avoid nests within 1.5 kilometers of roads and well pads. Instead, they found that the birds were equally likely to come back to these nests as to the ones farther away.

The findings could affect the mitigation measures required of energy companies to protect wildlife habitat, said Wallace, which are now negotiated with land management authorities on a project-by-project basis.

“One of the strengths of our study is its broad spatial scale, which makes it more relevant to management decisions than the smaller-scale studies that have been done in the past,” he said. “We were able to study these hawks at the scale of their ecology, and also at the scale of oil and gas development.”

Wyoming’s oil and gas industry has grown rapidly since the late 20th century, although growth has slowed lately as prices for fossil fuels have declined.

“We collected an excellent, large dataset on the hawks’ nesting behavior in both disturbed and undisturbed areas,” Wallace said. “This study lays the groundwork for rigorous before-and-after studies if and when oil and gas drilling spreads into now-undeveloped areas.”

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Patricia Kennedy, 541-562-5129 X 31

pat.kennedy@oregonstate.edu

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Ferruginous hawk
Ferruginous hawk

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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Source: 

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