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Study shows link between grizzlies, berries and wolves

More proof that apex predators are critical to their ecosystems

ChrisServheenUSFWS

Grizzly bears in the Yellowstone ecosystem may be benefiting from the presence of wolves, according to a new study. Photo courtesy ChrisServheen/USFWS.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — There’s no question that top predators have profound impacts on their ecosystems, but sometimes those relationships play out in unexpected ways. New research by scientists from Oregon State University and Washington State University has documented how the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park is helping grizzly bears.

By studying what bears eat, and how wolves affect the behavior of other animals, the biologists found that the return of the wolves is helping to restore a key part of the diet of grizzly bears that has been missing for much of the past century — berries that help bears put on fat before going into hibernation. Continue reading

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Biodiversity: New hope for honeybees?

Frozen semen bank, targeted breeding could bolster collapsing colonies

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U.S. honeybees may get some help from European relatives. Bob Berwyn photo.

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A promising project by Washington State University researchers may help bolster honey bee colonies that have been in steep decline the past several years. U.S. beekeepers said they lost almost a third of their colonies during the past winter, nearly double the acceptable rate.

The WSU scientists have developed a way to  use liquid nitrogen to freeze bee semen, enabling them to use genetic cross-breeding methods to produce more diverse, resilient honey bee subspecies that could help thwart the nation’s current colony collapse crisis. Continue reading

Environment: Herbicide use increasing exponentially

Herbicide use spikes as weed resistance grows.

Transgenic crops and increasingly resistant weeds create new problems for growers and consumers

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The use of herbicides associated with the cultivation three key herbicide-tolerant crops of  has skyrocketed, increasing by 25 percent annually, according to a new study from Washington State University that analyzed trends in production of cotton, soybeans and corn.

The findings, described as counterintuitive by Washington State University research professor Charles Benbrook, are based on public data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service.

The annual increase in the herbicides required to deal with tougher-to-control weeds on cropland planted to GE cultivars has grown from 1.5 million pounds in 1999 to about 90 million pounds in 2011. Continue reading

Study prompts Washington to revamp cougar hunting

Over-harvesting increases confrontations between wild cats and humans

A Washington cougar. Photo courtesy Rich Beausoleil/Washington Dept. of Fish and Game.

 By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — In a study that could have implications for predator management on a broader scale, biologists with Washington State University say that the state’s current cougar management scheme wasn’t working as intended.

Whether hunters killed 10 percent or 35 percent of cougars, the population remained the same. The old paradigm of wildlife management would explain this by saying the remaining population increased reproduction to make up for hunting. But this was not the case, the researchers said, explaining that an over-harvest of cougars can increase negative encounters between the predator and humans, livestock and game.

Based on the the 13-year study, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is implementing a new cougar management plan based on equilibrium management. Hunters will remove no more than the surplus of animals that would be generated through natural reproduction. Continue reading

Global warming: Reservoir drawdowns a factor in atmospheric methane levels

Reservoir drawdowns appear to have the potential to increase heat-trapping methane in the atmosphere.

Study measures increased methane emissions as reservoir levels drop

By Summit Voice

Lowering water levels in reservoirs may significantly increase emissions of heat-trapping methane gas, according to Washington State University researchers who measured dissolved gases in the water column of Lacamas Lake.

Graduate student Bridget Deemer found methane emissions jumped 20-fold when the water level was drawn down. A fellow WSU-Vancouver student, Maria Glavin, sampled bubbles rising from the lake mud and measured a 36-fold increase in methane during a drawdown.

Methane is 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. And while dams and the water behind them cover only a small portion of the earth’s surface, they harbor biological activity that can produce large amounts of greenhouse gases. There are also some 80,000 dams in the United States alone, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers National Inventory of Dams.

“Reservoirs have typically been looked at as a green energy source,” Deemer said. “But their role in greenhouse gas emissions has been overlooked.” Continue reading

Copper is bad news for Coho salmon

Several species of Coho salmon are listed under the Endangered Species Act. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Exposure to low concentrations make salmon susceptible to predation

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Researchers have long known that dissolved metals can be toxic to fish at relatively low concentrations. Some trout species, for example, can be poisoned by very low levels of zinc.

Now, some new research shows that tiny amounts of copper — from brake linings or mining operations, for example — affect salmons’ sense of smell so much that they can’t detect a compound that normally alerts them to danger.

“A copper-exposed fish is not getting the information it needs to make good decisions,” said Jenifer McIntyre, a postdoctoral research associate in Washington State University’s Puyallup Research and Extension CenterContinue reading

Environment: Ovarian disease caused by exposure to common toxins can be passed through generations

Exposure to DEET in insect repellants can cause ovarian disease that can be passed down through subsequent generations. PHOTO VIA WIKIPEDIA AND THE CREATIVE COMMONS.

Recent increase in ovarian disease partly attributed to ‘epigenetic transgenerational inheritance’

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Exposure to toxic chemicals in pesticides, plastics and hydrocarbons from fuel can cause ovarian disease across generations, according to Washington State University researchers who tracked the impacts in lab rats.

“What your great grandmother was exposed to when she was pregnant may promote ovarian disease in you and you’re going to pass it on to your grandchildren,”said biologist Michael Skinner. “Ovarian disease has been increasing over the past few decades to effect more than 10 percent of the human female population and environmental epigenetics may provide a reason for this increase,” he said.

The research shows that ovarian disease can result from exposures to a wide range of environmental chemicals and be inherited by future generations through “epigenetic transgenerational inheritance.” Continue reading

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