OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

scientific research and advances

Larvae from fat fish on deep reefs help keep shallower populations afloat

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Populations of coral reef fish in shallower, more vulnerable habitats likely owe at least some of their sustainability to the prodigious reproductive abilities of large, old counterparts that dwell at greater depths, a recent study suggests.

Researchers found that fish in the mesophotic zone – 30 to 150 meters underwater, the depth limit for reefs that depend on photosynthesis – are present in lower densities than at other depths, but consisted of larger, older fish with better than average reproductive capabilities.

That mesophotic population, research suggests, is heavy on what are known as BOFFFFs: big, old, fat, fecund, female fish.

Results of the study were recently published at nature.com. Primary funding for the research came from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Center for Sponsored Coastal Ocean Research.

Su Sponaugle, a professor of integrative biology at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, teamed up with two other researchers, lead author Esther D. Goldstein and Evan K. D’Alessandro, both of the University of Miami, to study the demographics of bicolor damselfish populations across three reef depths off the Florida coast.

The team studied bicolor damselfish at shallow (less than 10 meters); deep shelf (20 to 30 meters); and mesophotic reef locations, looking at population density and individuals’ structure, growth, size and reproductive output. The damselfish is a small, short-lived plankton feeder that’s closely associated with reef habitat. At mesophotic depths, however, the fish can live more than a dozen years.

The researchers sought to assess the potential of mesophotic reefs to support robust fish populations. Because of their greater depth, those reefs are less susceptible to both human-caused and natural habitat disturbances such as temperature increases.

The scientists found that as water depth increased, the bicolor damsel fish population density decreased and age distributions shifted toward older, and larger, individuals. Among those individuals are the BOFFFFs that produce lots of large eggs that likely hatch high-condition larvae.

The larval stage for the bicolor damselfish lasts 30 days, during which time the larvae are carried by water currents to eventually settle to a reef. At whatever depth they settle to, within 24 hours, larvae will metamorphosize into juveniles and then remain in close proximity to the reef for the duration of their lives.

“They’re very site attached,” Sponaugle said. “Once they settle somewhere, that’s where they live, grow and reproduce – that is, until they’re eaten.”

Across all depths, the fish are genetically similar, meaning it’s probable that shallow water and mesophotic reefs exchange young.

“Mesophotic reefs are sort of a warehouse for future fish in the shallower reefs,” Goldstein said. “The fish are older and larger on average, and they invest a lot into reproduction, which is good.

“So even though there are not as many of them on these deep reefs, their offspring hatch from larger eggs and likely experience higher survivorship, so it would seem they have the capacity to contribute more than their fair share to the shallow-water environments.” 

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Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

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Damselfish

Bicolor damselfish

A better battery: one-time pollutant may become valued product to aid wind, solar energy

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Chemists at Oregon State University have discovered that one or more organic compounds in a family that traditionally has been known as pollutants could offer an important advance to make cheap, reliable batteries.

Such batteries might be of particular value to store electricity from some clean energy systems. The inability to easily and cheaply store energy from the wind and sun, which is highly variable and intermittent, has been a key constraint to wider use of those forms of energy.

Although pumped hydro systems or compressed air facilities comprise almost all of the alternative energy storage capacity of this type, they have limitations. There is a tremendous demand, scientists say, for energy storage solutions that are modular and particularly suited to community storage, “smart grid” and micro-grid uses.

A new advance, published in ACS Energy Letters, has shown that at least one, and probably more compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, can function as a potentially low-cost, long-lasting and high-performance cathode in “dual-ion” batteries.

Such batteries would contain a carbon electrode as the anode and solid PAH as the cathode, with no need for the rare or costly metal elements now usually used.

Traditionally thought of as pollutants, PAHs are usually products of combustion – anything from a campfire to an automobile exhaust or coal-burning power plant – and pose significant concerns as toxins and carcinogens, often when inhaled.

But in this study, scientists found that at least one PAH compound called coronene, in a safe, crystallized solid form, makes a high-functioning electrode material with promising characteristics in dual-ion batteries.

“Prior to this work, PAHs were not considered stable when storing large anions,” said Xiulei (David) Ji, an assistant professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science, and recipient of a 2016 National Science Foundation CAREER Award, the most prestigious award for junior faculty.

“We found that coronene crystalline solid, a PAH, can lose electrons and provide a good capacity of anion storage while being structurally and chemically stable. Coronene had good performance as an electrode and the ability to have a very long cycle life, or the number of charges and discharges it can handle.”

Avoiding the use of metals in the electrodes is a huge advantage for dual-ion batteries and makes them much more sustainable, Ji said. Graphite cathodes can do this, but a serious challenge that has held them back for two decades is that they operate at levels hostile to the non-aqueous solvents in the electrolyte. The batteries based on coronene largely eliminate this problem, and would significantly improve the maintenance cost and sustainability of a stationary battery system.

The researchers in this study demonstrated the potential of coronene, but also said that other PAH compounds as well may have similar potential.

This research opens the door to an entirely new concept in battery construction, they said, which might take what had once been an unwanted pollutant and turn it into a safe, valued product.

Primary collaborators on this project in OSU’s Department of Chemistry included lead author and graduate student Ismael Rodriguez-Perez, and professors Michael Lerner and Rich Carter.

The research was supported by the American Chemical Society Petroleum Research Fund.

 

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David Ji, 541-737-6798

david.ji@oregonstate.edu

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New battery
New battery

Study finds local fidelity key to ocean-wide recovery of humpback whales

NEWPORT, Ore. – Humpback whales can migrate thousands of miles to reach feeding grounds each year, but a new study concludes that their fidelity to certain local habitats – as passed on through the generations – and the protection of these habitats are key to understanding the ultimate recovery of this endangered species.

The study documents the local recruitment of whales in Glacier Bay and Icy Strait in Alaska over a 30-year period. The researchers found that contemporary whales that utilize these rich feeding grounds overwhelmingly are descendants of whales that previously used the area.

In other words, the population recovery of humpback whales in the region depends on cultural knowledge of migratory routes passed on from mothers to their calves; it is not a product of whales from outside the area suddenly “discovering” a rich feeding ground.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Endangered Species Research.

“Humpback whales are recovering from exploitation on an ocean-wide basis, but ultimately their individual success is on a much more local scale,” said Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University and a co-author on the study.

“Humpback whales travel globally, but thrive locally.”

The study compares records of individual whales returning to Glacier Bay. The first, referred to as the “founder’s population,” included whales documented by a local high school teacher, Charles Jurasz, beginning in the 1970s. Jurasz was one of the first researchers to realize that individual whales could be identified by photographs of natural markings – a technique now widely used to study living whales.

Over the years, other researchers – including the authors of this study – continued to record the return of these whales by photo identification and they later collected small genetic samples to confirm the relatedness between individual whales.

Using a large database maintained by Glacier Bay National Park and the University of Alaska Southeast, the records of the founding population were then compared to records of the “contemporary population” returning to Glacier Bay, more than 30 years after Jurasz’s initial studies. The results were striking.

Of the 25 “founding females” that were also sampled for genetic analysis, all but one was represented in the contemporary group – either as still living, or by a direct descendant, or in many cases, both. Several of the founding females were even grandmothers of individuals in the contemporary population.

“We looked at three possibilities for population increase over a 33-year period including local recruitment from Glacier Bay/Icy Strait, recruitment from elsewhere in southeastern Alaska, and immigration from outside the region,” said Sophie P. Pierszalowski, a master’s student in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and lead author on the study.

“It is clear that the contemporary generation of whales is based on local recruitment, highlighting the importance of protecting local habitat for recovering species, especially those with culturally inherited migratory destinations.”

Humpback whales in the North Pacific were once estimated to number more than 15,000 individuals based on catch data before commercial whaling took a toll, reducing the population to less than a thousand by 1966. Humpback whales were first protected by the International Whaling Commission in 1965, then listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 1973.

Since the protection, the oceanic population has increased to an estimated 21,000 individuals based on photo-identification studies and other evidence. The recovery has been slow, in part because humpback whales can live to be 70 years of age and their recovery is driven primarily by local fidelity and recruitment.

“Limiting vessel traffic in important habitats is one way to help protect humpback whales,” Pierszalowski said, “along with maintaining legal distances by vessels, reducing the risk of entanglement with fishing gear, and maintaining stranding networks that have the capacity to quickly disentangle whales.”

OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute is based at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore.

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Scott Baker, 541-272-0560, scott.baker@oregonstate.edu;

Sophie Pierszalowski, 541-737-4523, pierszas@oregonstate.edu

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Photo of mother and calf to the left:

https://flic.kr/p/MbQR5w


 

 

 

jump

Want to optimize those 10,000 (or fewer) steps? Walk faster, sit less

CORVALLIS, Ore. -- That popular daily target of 10,000 steps is a worthwhile goal, but a new study at Oregon State University suggests that if you find that unattainable, don’t despair - a smaller number, especially at moderate or greater intensity, can lead to health benefits too.

It’s especially helpful if 3,000 of the steps come at a brisk pace, and limiting sedentary time also plays a role in healthy readings for cholesterol and other risk factors.

The average American takes between 5,000 and 7,000 steps per day, researchers say.

“Some physical activity is better than none, and typically more is better than less,” said John Schuna Jr., assistant professor of kinesiology in OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“When it comes to steps, more is better than fewer, and steps at higher cadences for a significant amount of time are beneficial. A good target for healthy adults is 150 minutes per week spent at 100 or more steps per minute. And in terms of time spent sedentary, less is better – you want to spend as little time not moving as possible within reason.”

Schuna, lead author Catrine Tudor-Locke of the University of Massachusetts and six other researchers analyzed data from 3,388 participants age 20 and older in a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Their findings were recently published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.

The research builds on earlier studies, many of which relied on self-reported estimates of activity levels, which tend to run high, or accelerometer data using proprietary output measures (e.g., activity counts/minute), and also failed to take cadence – steps per minute – into account. A cadence of 100 steps per minute or greater is widely accepted as the threshold for moderate-intensity activity in adults.

In addition to minute-by-minute step data, the researchers looked at relationships between step-defined physical activity and various cardiometabolic risk factors for the survey participants – such as waist circumference, blood pressure, fasting glucose, insulin, and cholesterol levels, as well as body mass index.

Among male participants, only the highest quintile – the top one-fifth – had a median of more than 10,000 steps per day, checking in at 12,334. Among women, the top quintile’s median was 9,824.

Beyond just total step counts, the research looked at daily “peak 30-minute cadence” – the average number of steps in a participant’s most vigorous 30 minutes, which weren’t necessarily consecutive minutes. To measure sedentary time, researchers used the percentage of accelerometer time per day that showed no step-based movement.

Among all survey participants, only the top quintile had a median peak cadence – 96 steps per minute – that was in line with accepted physical activity guidelines of 30 minutes a day at 100 steps per minute.

Nevertheless, analysis across all quintiles showed a strong relationship between higher cadences – walking more briskly as opposed to less briskly – and favorable numbers in the cardiometabolic risk categories.

The same held true for number of steps, whether above or below the 10,000-step threshold. And higher percentages of sedentary time were linked to less-favorable values in several risk factors.

While FitBit, Garmin and other fitness trackers might be responsible for the current 10,000-step fixation, Schuna notes that the magic number’s roots trace to 1960s Japan. From a fitness craze inspired by the 1964 Tokyo Olympics sprang the first commercial pedometer, the manpo-kei. In Japanese, manpo-kei literally means “10,000 steps meter.”

“One of the questions has always been, what if one person with 10,000 steps per day accumulates nearly all of them in a two-hour time block, and another stretches them over 15 hours – does it matter in terms of health effects?” Schuna said.

“This is a big debate in the field, with a couple of intertwined questions. Current evidence does suggest that moderate to vigorous activity and sedentary time have a certain amount of independence from each other in terms of health effects. But if you’re getting two or three hours of moderate to vigorous activity every day, even if you’re relatively sedentary the rest of the time, it’s hard to imagine the sedentary time would completely ameliorate or wipe out the health benefits associated with that level of activity.”

A person who averages 10,000 or more steps/day typically accumulates at least 150 minutes a week of moderate to vigorous activity, Schuna said.

“Now there is an additional caveat regarding the manner in which physical activity is accumulated to meet current physical activity guidelines, which states that aerobic activity should be accumulated in bouts of at least 10 minutes in duration.,” he said. “If we take this into consideration, it becomes more difficult to determine whether or not someone is meeting the physical activity guidelines using step counts alone. That aside, averaging 10,000 or more steps/day puts you in the top 15 percent of adults in terms of step-defined physical activity.”   

Schuna envisions a future in which wearable fitness trackers will feature apps that make minute-by-minute data available to the user, as research-grade accelerometers now do to scientists.

“That’s along this paradigm of personalized medicine,” he said. “In the future, everyone will have his or her genome sequenced, and from that we’ll be looking for specific markers that predispose people to higher risks for certain conditions. The physical activity and sleep data we collect from wearable devices will be used to track compliance to individualized behavior prescriptions while attempting to optimize each individual’s health.”

Media Contact: 

Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

Source: 

John Schuna, 541-737-1536
john.schuna@oregonstate.edu

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Health Extension Run 2014
Walking steps

Bushmeat hunting threatens mammal populations and ecosystems, poses food security threat

CORVALLIS, Ore. — The ongoing decline of more than 300 species of animals is having significant environmental impacts and posing a food security threat for millions of people in Asia, Africa and South America, according to the first global assessment of the hunting and trapping of terrestrial mammals.

Species of large wild ungulates, primates and bats are threatened primarily by unregulated or illegal hunting, according to data collected by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a nongovernmental organization.

Researchers concluded that only bold changes and political will can diminish the possibility of humans consuming many of the world’s wild mammals to the point of extinction.

An international team led by William Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University, analyzed data on the IUCN Red List to reach their findings, which were published today in Royal Society Open Science, a professional journal.

The animals at risk range from large (grey ox, Bactrian camels, bearded and warty pigs) to small (golden-capped fruit bat, black-bearded flying fox and Bulmer’s fruit bat). Hunting endangers more primate species - 126, including the lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo and many species of lemurs and monkeys - than any other group.

Populations of other species are declining and similarly threatened. Javan and black rhinoceroses, tapirs, deer, tree kangaroos, armadillos, pangolins, rodents and large carnivores are all hunted or trapped for meat, medicine, body parts, trophies or live pets.

Scientists reviewed IUCN data on 1,169 of the world’s terrestrial mammals that are listed as threatened with extinction. These animals represent 26 percent of all mammals for which data exist to determine whether or not they are endangered. 

Forests, grasslands and deserts in the developing world are now lacking many species of wild animals and becoming “empty landscapes,” the authors wrote in their study.

 The researchers suggested five broad steps for effectively addressing the threat:

  • Laws could be changed to increase penalties for poaching and illegal trafficking and to expand protected habitats for endangered mammals.
  • Property rights could be provided to communities that benefit from the presence of wildlife.
  • Food alternatives can help shift consumption to more sustainable species, especially protein-rich plant foods.
  • Education could help consumers in all countries understand the threats to mammals that are hunted or trapped.
  • Assistance in family planning could help relieve pressure on wildlife in regions where women want to delay or avoid pregnancy.

The researchers suggest that, to curb this overhunting crisis, more logistical and financial support will be needed from the richer, developed countries.

“Our analysis is conservative,” said Ripple. “These 301 species are the worst cases of declining mammal populations for which hunting and trapping are clearly identified as a major threat. If data for a species were missing or inconclusive, we didn’t include it.

“Our goal is to raise awareness of this global crisis. Many of these animals are at the brink of extinction. The illegal smuggling in wildlife and wildlife products is run by dangerous international networks and ranks among trafficking in arms, human beings and drugs in terms of profits.”

People across much of the globe depend on wild meat for part of their diets, the researchers noted. For example, they wrote, “an estimated 89,000 metric tons of meat with a market value of about $200 million are harvested annually in the Brazilian Amazon, and exploitation rates in the Congo basin are estimated to be five times higher….” Loss of these mammals could affect the livelihoods of millions of people, the researchers said.

Overhunting of mammals is concentrated, they added, in countries with poorer populations. As hunters find it harder to feed their families, it is likely they will switch to less preferred species, migrate, or suffer from malnutrition and disease.

Not all wild meat is consumed for subsistence, the researchers noted. Much of it is sold in markets and as delicacies in urban restaurants. In 2010, another team of scientists found that about five tons of bushmeat are smuggled weekly in tourist luggage through the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. 

Large carnivores and herbivores (bigger than 10 kilograms or 22 pounds) comprise a small percentage of all mammals listed but tend to be impacted more severely by overhunting, the researchers reported. By dispersing seeds and controlling smaller animals such as rodents, large animals have significant impacts on the environment.

The loss of large mammals could lead to long-lasting ecological changes, including overpopulation of prey, higher disease risks and the loss of benefits for humans, the researchers said. The scientists found that 57 species of even-toed ungulates (such as hippopotamus, wild yak, camel, marsh deer) larger than 10 kilograms are threatened by hunting.

Smaller mammals play crucial roles in dispersing seeds, pollinating plants and controlling insects. The largest group of mammals under 1 kilogram (about 2 pounds) threatened by hunting is comprised of 27 species of bats.

Ripple has led international collaborations to analyze the status and ecological effects of large animals. Co-authors on this project include researchers at Oregon State University, Stanford University, the University of California Santa Barbara and universities in Gabon, the U.K., Sweden, South Africa, Brazil and Australia.

The article on which this story is based is available online here.

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William Ripple, 541-737-3056, bill.ripple@oregonstate.edu

    

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Clouded leopard

Giant ground pangolin

MountainGorilla2

Collared brown lemur

Aye-aye

Ancient wingless wasp, now extinct, is one of a kind

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers have identified a bizarre, parasitic wasp without wings preserved in 100-million-year-old amber, which seems to borrow parts of its anatomy from a range of other insects but actually belongs to no other family ever identified on Earth.

The specimen, which is spectacularly well preserved, probably crawled along the ground at the base of trees trying to find other insects and a place to lay its eggs. While dinosaurs strolled around above it, it looked for an insect grub of some kind it could sting.

But for reasons unknown – maybe because it couldn’t fly, maybe because it died off from pathogens or habitat loss – it eventually disappeared and is now extinct.

After considerable debate, citing first one body part and then another, researchers created a new family for the specimen, called Aptenoperissidae, as part of the larger Order of Hymenoptera, which includes modern bees and wasps. Within that family, this insect, named Aptenoperissus burmanicus, is now the only known specimen.

The findings have been reported in the journal Cretaceous Research, by scientists from Russia, England and the United States.

“When I first looked at this insect I had no idea what it was,” said George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus in the College of Science at Oregon State University, co-author on the study and one of the world’s leading experts on plant and animal life forms found preserved in amber.

“You could see it’s tough and robust, and could give a painful sting. We ultimately had to create a new family for it, because it just didn’t fit anywhere else. And when it died out, this created an evolutionary dead end for that family.”

The insect, Poinar said, brings to mind the old parable – which now has been adapted among various world religions - about six blind men being asked to touch an elephant and describe what it looked like. One who felt the tail described it as a rope; one who touched the leg said it resembled a pillar; and so on.

“We had various researchers and reviewers, with different backgrounds, looking at this fossil through their own window of experience, and many of them saw something different,” Poinar said. “If you focused on its strong hind legs you could call it a grasshopper. The antenna looked like an ant, the thick abdomen more like a cockroach. But the face looked mostly like a wasp, and we finally decided it had to be some kind of Hymenoptera.”

The insect is a female, and its long legs may have helped it pull out of cavities into which it had burrowed, seeking pupae of other insects into which to lay its eggs. With that lifestyle, wings would have been a hindrance, researchers noted in the study. It may have attacked other beetles with its sharp and jagged stinger, and it would have had a pretty strong leaping ability. It did have a cleaning mechanism on the tip of its antenna that is characteristic of Hymenoptera.

The fossil came from what is now the Hukawng Valley in Myanmar on the continent of Asia, where arthropods from 252 families have been found, one of the richest such deposits in all Cretaceous amber.

 

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George Poinar, Jr.

poinarg@science.oregonstate.edu

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Wingless wasp
Wingless wasp

Scientists outline biochemistry of xanthohumol - an avenue to treat metabolic syndrome

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have made a fundamental advance in understanding xanthohumol – a compound found in hops that’s of significant interest to prevent or treat the lipid and metabolic disorders that are a primary killer of people in the developed world.

The scientists identified for the first time more precisely how xanthohumol works, and why it may have such significant promise in addressing the high cholesterol, blood sugar, obesity and other issues that are collectively referred to as “metabolic syndrome.”

The findings were recently published in BBA – Proteins and Proteomics, a professional journal, by researchers from several OSU departments and the Linus Pauling Institute. The work was supported in part by the National Institutes of Health.

More than 25 percent of the adults in the United States meet the criteria for metabolic syndrome, putting them at significantly increased risk for cardiovascular disease and type-2 diabetes. That syndrome is defined by diagnosis of three or more of several conditions, including abdominal obesity, elevated lipids, high blood pressure, pro-inflammatory state, a pro-thrombotic state and insulin resistance or impaired glucose tolerance.

The new research was based on mass spectrometry in combination with a chemical labeling technique. In it, the scientists concluded that several “prenylflavonoids,” particularly xanthohumol, clearly are a ligand, or have a binding mechanism that promotes the activity of the Farnesoid X Receptor, or FXR. FXR, in turn, is a master regulator of lipid and glucose metabolism – in simpler terms, the body’s processing of fats and sugar.

“There’s already interest in targeting FXR as a possible approach to a therapy for fatty liver disease, type2 diabetes and obesity,” said Claudia Maier, a professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences. “With this work we’ve identified a unique binding mechanism and chemical structure that could make that possible. This is really very interesting, and very promising.”

This new understanding of the FXR receptor at the molecular level, researchers said, could, in theory, facilitate the use of compounds that take advantage of it – such as xanthohumol – or development of other compounds with a similar chemical structure that work even better.

“We now see how these prenylflavonoids are working, and with modification through computational approaches it might be possible to even improve upon that,” said Liping Yang, the lead author on the new study and faculty research assistant in the OSU Department of Chemistry. “The end result might be either supplements or a prescription drug, with the potential to address metabolic syndrome, non-alcoholic liver disease, diabetes and other metabolic disorders.”

The FXR receptor, the scientists said, is a part of normal lipid and glucose metabolism, working in collaboration with appropriate diet, weight, exercise and other healthy activities. However, its function can be eroded by intake of too much fat and sugar. Restoring that function, by contrast, may help address metabolic problems.

In previous research, published earlier this year by OSU scientists Cristobal Miranda and Fred Stevens, scientists studied laboratory animals that were on a high-fat diet. When they were given a high dosage of xanthohumol, it reduced their LDL, or “bad” cholesterol by 80 percent; their insulin level by 42 percent; and their level of IL-6, a biomarker of inflammation, by 78 percent.

Weight gain was also constrained, compared to animals not given xanthohumol. The levels of xanthohumol used in the research far exceeded any amount that could be obtained by normal dietary intake, but could be easily obtained through supplements.

In that study, researchers pointed out that direct health care costs arising from obesity or related disorders account for up to 10 percent of U.S. health care expenditures.

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Source: 

Claudia Maier, 541-737-9533

claudia.maier@oregonstate.edu

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Source of xanthohumol
Hops - source of xanthohumol

New technologies – and a dash of whale poop – help scientists monitor whale health

NEWPORT, Ore. – A lot of people think what Leigh Torres has done this summer and fall would qualify her for a spot on one of those “World’s Worst Jobs” lists.

After all, the Oregon State University marine ecologist follows gray whales from a small inflatable boat in the rugged Pacific Ocean and waits for them to, well, poop. Then she and her colleagues have about 20-30 seconds to swoop in behind the animal with a fine mesh net and scoop up some of the prized material before it drifts to the ocean floor.

Mind you, gray whales can reach a length of more than 40 feet and weigh more than 30 tons, making the retrieval of their daily constitutional somewhat daunting. Yet Torres, a principal investigator in the university’s Marine Mammal Institute, insists that it really isn’t that bad.

“We’re just looking for a few grams of material and to be honest, it doesn’t even smell that bad,” she said. “Now, collecting a DNA sample from a whale’s blow-hole – that’s a bad job. Their breath is horrendous.”

Being a marine pooper-scooper isn’t some strange fetish for the Oregon State research team. They are conducting a pilot project to determine how gray whales respond to ocean noise – both natural and human – and whether these noises cause physiological stress in the animals. Technology is changing the way the researchers are approaching their study.

“New advances in biotechnology allow us to use the fecal samples to look at a range of things that provide clues to the overall health and stress of the whales,” Torres said. “We can look at their hormone levels and genetically identify individual whales, their sex and whether they are pregnant. And we can analyze their prey and document what they’ve been eating.

“Previously, we would have to do a biopsy to learn some of these things and though they can be done safely, you typically don’t repeat the procedure often because it’s invasive,” she added. “Here, we can follow individual whales over a four-month feeding season and pick up multiple samples that can tell us changes in their health.”

The study is a pilot project funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Ocean Acoustics Program to determine the impacts of noise on whale behavior and health. Torres, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon, focuses on gray whales because they are plentiful and close to shore.

“Many marine mammals are guided by acoustics and use sound to locate food, to navigate, to communicate with one another and to find a mate,” said Torres, a faculty member in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and an ecologist with the Oregon Sea Grant program.

Ten years ago, such a study would not have been possible, Torres acknowledged. In addition to new advances in genetic and hormone analyses, the OSU team uses a drone to fly high above the whales. It not only detects when they defecate, it is giving them unprecedented views of whale behavior.

“We are seeing things through the drone cameras that we have never seen before,” Torres said. “Because of the overhead views, we now know that whales are much more agile in their feeding. We call them ‘bendy’ whales because they make such quick, sharp turns when feeding. These movements just can’t be seen from the deck of a ship.”

The use of small, underwater Go-Pro cameras allows them to observe what the whales are feeding upon below. The researchers can identify zooplankton, benthic invertebrates, and fish in the water column near feeding whales, and estimate abundance – helping them understand what attracts the whales to certain habitats.

Joe Haxel and Sharon Nieukirk are acoustic scientists affiliated with OSU's Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies and the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory at the Hatfield center who are assisting with the project. They deploy drifting hydrophones near the whales to record natural and human sounds, help operate the overhead drone camera that monitors the whales’ behavior, and also get in on the fecal analysis.

“Gray whales are exposed to a broad range of small- and medium-sized boat traffic that includes sport fishing and commercial fleets,” Haxel said. “Since they are very much a coastal species, their exposure to anthropogenic noise is pretty high. That said, the nearshore environment is already very noisy with natural sounds including wind and breaking surf, so we’re trying to suss out some of the space and time patterns in noise levels in the range of habitats where the whales are found.”

It will take years for the researchers to learn how ocean noise affects whale behavior and health, but as ocean noises continue increasing – through ship traffic, wave energy projects, sonar use, seismic surveys and storms – the knowledge they gain may be applicable to many whale species, Torres said.

And the key to this baseline study takes a skilled, professional pooper-scooper.

“When a whale defecates, it generates this reddish cloud and the person observing the whale usually screams “POOP!” and we spring into action,” Torres said. “It’s a moment of excitement, action - and also sheer joy. I know that sounds a little weird, but we have less than 30 seconds to get in there and scoop up some of that poop that may provide us with a biological gold mine of information that will help protect whales into the future.

“That’s not such a bad job after all, is it?”

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Source: 

Leigh Torres, 541-867-0895, leigh.torres@oregonstate.edu

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Link to: the whale fluke photo

 

 

For a video of the research, click here

 

 

 

 


 

Whale-Aerial-2

Aerial shot of a gray whale.

 

 

 

Torres-boat

Researchers use a drone to monitor whale behavior

 

 

 

 

OSU student receives $132,000 EPA STAR fellowship

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Christina Murphy, a doctoral student at Oregon State University, has received a $132,000 Science to Achieve Results, or STAR fellowship, from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Murphy, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at OSU, is conducting research on how best to manage dams to protect salmon.

STAR graduate fellows are selected from a large number of applications in a highly competitive review process, EPA officials say. Since the program began in 1995, the EPA has awarded nearly 2,000 students a total of more than $65 million in funding.

Murphy earned three honors bachelor’s degrees at OSU, in biology, fisheries and wildlife, and international studies, then conducted a Fulbright research project in Chile. She earned a master’s degree at the Universitat de Girona in Spain, and then returned to Oregon State to pursue her doctorate.

“Northwest reservoirs have different hydrologic regimes and changes in timing and magnitude of drawdown,” Murphy said. She is evaluating physical and chemical conditions in the water, as well as phytoplankton, zooplankton, benthic insects, diversity and populations of fish, and habitat availability within reservoirs – both before and after hydrologic changes – in order to inform decisions on dam and reservoir management.

Murphy is focusing her studies on four reservoirs in the upper Willamette basin in Oregon – Blue River, Fall Creek, Lookout Point and Hills Creek.

“The Pacific Northwest relies on hydropower for more than half of its electricity, with high-head dams forming large reservoirs on rivers historically supporting anadromous salmon,” Murphy said. “Improved understanding of the ecological mechanisms and responses of Pacific Northwest reservoirs with respect to water-level fluctuations is critical to ensuring ecologically sound practices for the long-term operation and greening of our hydropower infrastructure.”

Story By: 
Source: 

Christina Murphy, 541-505-1393, Christina.Murphy@oregonstate.edu

Civil engineering society issues first-ever tsunami-safe building standards

CORVALLIS, Ore. – When the next huge tsunami strikes the western United States, people in and around some newly built coastal structures will be more safe thanks to national construction standards announced today that - for the first time ever in the U.S. - will consider the devastating risks posed by tsunamis.

The American Society of Civil Engineers has developed this edition of the standards, known as ASCE 7-16, and it’s the first to include a chapter on tsunami hazards, in addition to chapters on seismic, wind and flood hazards.

The tsunami standards are only for steel-reinforced concrete buildings in “inundation zones,” which in the future may be stronger and safer with only moderate increases in cost, experts say. They will not apply to wood-frame structures.

The standards were based in part on work done at OSU’s O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory, according to Dan Cox of Oregon State University, a professor of civil and construction engineering in the OSU College of Engineering, and one of about 20 engineers on the ASCE subcommittee that developed them.

The subcommittee was a mix of engineering practitioners and researchers from across the nation, Cox said. Led by a practicing engineer in Hawaii, Gary Chock, the committee began its work in late 2010, a few months before the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan.

“We weren’t reacting,” Cox said. “We were trying to do this in advance. After the 2011 event, interest accelerated regarding how to build things safely in a tsunami zone, and it was important that the subcommittee contained people familiar with how codes work and academic researchers who can bring in the latest advances. Everything was geared toward bringing the best of both into practice.”

The subcommittee used as a starting point a document that had been issued in 2008 by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Cox’s OSU College of Engineering colleague Harry Yeh had contributed to that document, which was a guideline for designing structures to allow for vertical evacuation, such as climbing to a higher floor.

“We wanted to pull the state of the practice together, and if there were holes in the way we were doing things, we wanted to fill in those holes,” Cox said. “It’s a very rigorous process; there has to be a lot of vetting.”

The large wave flume at OSU’s Hinsdale lab played a major role in producing the data used in developing the tsunami standards, said Cox, formerly the lab’s director and now the head of the Cascadia Lifelines Program.

That program, a research consortium, is working to mitigate infrastructure damage in the Pacific Northwest from a major earthquake on the Cascadia subduction zone.

OSU and eight partners from both the public and private sectors have begun five research projects with $1.5 million contributed by the partners: the Oregon Department of Transportation, Portland General Electric, Northwest Natural, the Bonneville Power Administration, the Port of Portland, the Portland Water Bureau, the Eugene Water and Electric Board, and the Tualatin Valley Water District.

Cox led some of the studies conducted in the flume, and College of Engineering colleague Solomon Yim was a collaborator on a project led by the University of Hawaii.

“One of the big projects was debris,” Cox said. “What force does debris have, and how can you build a column to keep a building in place if debris were to hit it? Now we have equations to use to size that column to withstand a large piece of debris, like a shipping container.”

Already underway on the new standards, Cox and other subcommittee members went to Japan after the 2011 tragedy to study what had worked and what didn’t.

“We got enough information to estimate hydraulic forces and understand damage patterns, and we used this to validate what we were doing,” Cox said. “It was independent, real-world experience to check on whether our approach was valid. These standards are built on lab work, field observation and engineering practice. We used all of the tools available to come up with these standards.”

The ASCE 7-16 standards are good for six years and will become part of the International Building Code. In the U.S., it’s up to each state to decide whether to adopt new codes in their entirety, partially in a modified format, or not at all. In Oregon, the Building Codes Division is responsible for reviewing the new standards.

“Oregon should look very carefully at it,” Cox said. “A lot of engineering eyes have been looking at this, and the standards are consistent with engineering design practice. If in six years we have better information we can change them.”

University officials say they are committed to meet or exceed all building, engineering and life safety standards, including the new tsunami standards announced today, for the future marine studies facility at Newport.

Cox notes that the tsunami standards will have the most impact on engineers designing and building structures less than about five stories in height. Above five stories, even-stronger building codes will take precedence over codes to protect smaller structures from tsunamis.

While the new standards will add some expense to the cost of a two- or three-story building, the additional amount will be comparatively small.

“The structural cost of a building is less than 10 percent,” Cox said. “It will be more expensive but it doesn’t triple the cost. When you make a building twice as strong, it doesn’t cost twice as much.”

The new tsunami standard can also be used on retrofit projects, he said.

“We can now apply consistent standards across the hazards,” Cox said. “This allows us to use a consistent methodology, a consistent set of standards so you can design for multiple hazards. It gives options if you decide you want to build in that zone or you have to build in that zone.”

Ninety percent of the Oregon town of Seaside, for example, is in an inundation zone.

“Now if you want to build a hotel in Seaside, or an office building, you have standards,” Cox said, while noting standards alone aren’t enough.

“You have 20 minutes to get to safety,” he said. “You still have to have plans and practice them routinely. We put sprinklers in buildings, but that doesn’t mean we stop doing fire drills.”

Media Contact: 

Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

Source: 

Dan Cox, 541-737-3631

dan.cox@oregonstate.edu

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